A lot is spoken about behaviour change in relation to sustainable transport. Changing a person’s learned behaviour can be a daunting prospect. Imagine you have…
A lot is spoken about behaviour change in relation to sustainable transport. Changing a person’s learned behaviour can be a daunting prospect. Imagine you have always driven to work – you love your car – you are now being asked to try public transport or cycle 1 or 2 days a week. Uggh – why should I? is their response. Where do you go from there?
Behaviour change methods can go a long way to empowering people to change their entrenched and learned travel choice.
Can you actually change people’s behaviour patterns?
It’s a delusion we can change peoples’ behaviours. Instead, people change their own behaviours. Our role is to create an enabling environment and provide opportunities for people to become inspired by what their peers have achieved. When we offer people a chance to take a step closer to the lives, ambitions, lifestyle or fitness they dream about (and we make that change feel safe) then they’ll do the changing for us.
Which behaviour change theory is best?
The best theory is the one you make yourself. Know your audience is the mantra and really understand their needs. Take a walk in their shoes (or ride their bus) and understand the barriers to them making the change to sustainable modes of transport.
Generic theories are, however, useful in expanding our thinking as change agents. Theories like Diffusion of Innovations, Social Learning Theory and Self-Determination Theory are powerful because they challenge conventional “carrot and stick” assumptions about behaviour change.
I’m just not interested, thank you?
Don’t blame them. Stay positive and keep going. Immerse yourself in their lives until you figure out how to create solutions that answer their real needs.
Keep them exposed to positive messages – enable peers to communicate their successes. Not every suggestion is palatable at first – making it attractive can be simple – a free breakfast for cyclists once a month or free bus taster tickets can go a long way.
Sustainable travel makes sense to the health and well-being of individuals and offers considerable savings. Products like that can sell themselves, but no amount of persuasion or wiz-bang marketing can sell a behaviour that provides no advantages for the adopter.
Do threats work?
The short answer is no. After all, when was the last time you changed your behaviour because of a threat? Threats create waves of denial and resistance. Yet campaigns based on threat appeals are common in areas like sustainable transport. “Change your behaviour or you will lose your parking space?” It just doesn’t work. The failure of threat-based appeals results in a common marketing syndrome, the Just Shout Louder Effect. If people aren’t responding to the threat, then Just Shout Louder! A classic example was Deutsche Bank’s giant Climate Change clicker in Times Square.
Do incentives work?
Incentives are a two-edged sword. Sometimes they help, sometimes they don’t. There’s an unresolved decades-long debate between economists and psychologists about the effectiveness of incentives. Many psychologists argue that, although an incentive may have short term benefits, withdrawing it is likely to reduce the actor’s motivation to lower than it was before the incentive was offered. In fact, there’s empirical evidence both ways.
Incentives that support the change to sustainable transport are more likely to be effective as the ‘it’s not as bad as I thought’ message starts to creep into their minds. Peer pressure is another trigger for change – ‘if they can do it – I can’.
What’s the message?
Plain old marketing typically overestimates the power of messages, a syndrome that could be called “message overload.” People are rarely convinced by messages. Usually they are convinced by the inspiring real life examples of their peers. Nevertheless, we always need to communicate, and stories (rather than messages or slogans) are our best tools.
We resent unwanted advice, especially when it threatens our comfort zones. Denial and resistance are driven by fear and the worst fears are social fears. What will our friends and family think? What if we fail? How will we look to others? It may seem silly but one of the big barriers to women cycling to work is their fear about not having the facilities at work to change. We trivialise these fears to our peril. Behaviour change is therefore rarely achieved by persuasion or marketing but almost always requires modelling how to carry out unfamiliar behaviours with ease.
So in conclusion …
We are learning that the business of change requires us to work with one another in their social context, respond to their hopes and fears, recognise the role of power, and understand that behaviour sits in a matrix of technologies, infrastructures, institutions, norms and social structures, all of which need to be the open to potential modification.
Behaviour change is a multi-disciplinary effort. It involves practices and ways of thinking that no one profession can claim expertise in. It touches on: organisational change, observational and social research, regulation, design thinking, social psychology, and communication and marketing.
Not forgetting leadership …
As a multi-disciplinary practice, one of the most important roles of a change agent is to be a facilitator of discussions with members of the target audience itself. That conversation may just be the most important element in the whole process.
To find out more about how Connected can help your business with behaviour change methods and moving your workforce to embracing sustainable modes of transport – contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org