Our thinking


Analyse behaviour and change will follow

When we’re looking to change behaviour, it’s tempting to ask people what will work, in the hope that the target audience can tell us what we need to do to get them to behave differently.

However, people very often don’t know what will change their own behaviour. They may give you an answer, but often that answer won’t quite be right. Sometimes, they won’t be able to answer the question at all.

So, if we can’t get the answers that easily, what can we do?

To come up with effective ways of changing behaviour, we need to work to understand the audience, their lives and the underlying causes of their current behaviour (or lack of it).

To do this, we need to spend some time researching them. Speak to them about their lives and how the behaviour fits into it; understand the context and the environment. Ask them not what will change their behaviour, but ask them about what’s driving it in the first place. Ask about concrete examples: recall isn’t always perfect, but it’s better than asking them to predict the future (people are notoriously bad at predicting their own behaviour). Perhaps they’re not active because they don’t feel confident enough, or perhaps they just don’t enjoy it. Understanding what’s driving their behaviour is the key to informing how we intervene.

Interviews and observations are often the best way to truly understand this. However, if you’re short on time, surveys can still give some insights. When speaking to people in person, you can really spend time digging into what they say, to understand the actual drivers of behaviour, including the unconscious ones that people themselves aren’t aware of.

For example, when you ask people why they’re not active, they’ll often say that they don’t have time. This is an easy answer to give, but if we look deeper into how people are spending their time, and the choices they’re making throughout the day, we’ll most likely find that they could have the time if they really wanted to do it. They just prefer to do other things in that time, such as socialising, watching TV, or spending time with their family. This means that the problem isn’t actually time, it’s motivation, and this means we should intervene in a very different way to get the right outcome.

If we’re going to spend time understanding people’s behaviour, it’s important that we do it right. To provide us with a structure for this process, we can look to behavioural science. Frameworks such as the Behaviour Change Wheel provide us with a structure for considering all influences on behaviour. The Behaviour Change Wheel guide even includes example questionnaires you can use to assess these. Using a framework such as this ensures that we’ve covered all bases, and then provides us with ways to intervene.

Ultimately, the important things to remember are:

  • You can ask people what will change their behaviour, but don’t expect them to accurately know
  • Spend time understanding the behaviour in context
  • Really work to understand the behaviour: don’t always take what people say at face value
  • Use theories and frameworks of behaviour change, to guide your exploration and provide methods of intervening
  • It’s often tempting to jump straight in to coming up with an exciting creative solution without spending time doing research. However, if we take time to understand our audience fully, we’ll have a much better chance of effectively changing their behaviour.

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