Behaviour change interventions – guides to approaches and theories

The social processes underlying many development initiatives can often be better managed [(c) Can Stock Photo]
This page provides access to a range of guides that provide information, tools and techniques for those wishing to manage the social processes required to support community and regional development. The basic principles are universal and there are a wide range of guides developed in many different contexts that can help us. However, to achieve change policy makers and others need to be aware of the characteristics of complex social systems,  and what these mean for the design of constructive interventions. It is also important to clearly set out a theory of change and logic models  that build interventions that link operations with the required technical, organizational and social activities.

The Palette of Possibilities for environmental action projects . This 2020 report by Les Robinson and colleagues sets out a clear approach to the vital strategies in designing a human change effort. It illustrates a palette of 17 strategies with colourful real life examples that show how simple and intuitive they can be. Plus it demystifies two vital steps – preliminary social research and prototyping – with examples of how these are within the capability of any project, no matter how humble.  More related resources for designing change efforts can be found from Les Robinson’s Changeology website.

Behavior change for nature: A behavioral science toolkit for practitioners. This 2019 report from Rare and The Behavioural Insights Team provides a new and growing set of insights that can aid us in designing practice change interventions that work for everyday people from fishers, to tourists, to government officials. The report highlights three fundamental insights from behavioral science: the need to focus on unconscious as well as conscious drivers of behavior; the need to focus on the setting of our behaviors as well as internal motives and drivers; and the need to focus on behaviors rather than solely beliefs, attitudes, or intentions.

Impact = Influence + Leverage + Learning (I2L2). This 2015 discussion paper by Jane Reisman, Anne Gienapp and Tom Kelly presents and explains the I2L2 formula. It presents the elements of influence, leverage, and learning as contributors to impact. Isolating these elements shifts attention to them, recognizing them as the factors that can enable, accelerate, or amplify impact.

www_iconChanging behaviour: A public policy perspective. This 2015 Australian government briefing paper deals with the challenge of how democratic governments can most effectively influence the behaviour of their citizens. The role of regulating or influencing behaviour is, of course, not a new one for governments—they have long used a range of traditional policy tools, including legislation, sanctions, regulations, taxes and subsidies, the provision of public services and information to modify behaviour in the public interest. What makes the current environment more challenging is the growing number of policy problems where influencing human behaviour is very complex and the effectiveness of traditional approaches may be limited without some additional tools and understanding of how to engage citizens in cooperative behavioural change. The paper looks through the reasons for supporting changes and the broad theories that are of relevance in a useful stepwise way.

www_iconMotivating behaviour change. This short 2014 review  presents  approaches  to  behavior  change  and  highlights  evidence  of  their  effectiveness.  It  refers  to  the development of theories about the processes that shape behaviour, to empirical studies that test these theories, and to applied research. The latter particularly relates to how behaviour can be changed in everyday situations and settings. MINDSPACE: A practical guide to influencing behaviour through public policy   is another short 2014 UK Cabinet Office guide to behavior change elements that are of most practical use to policy-makers.

www_iconBehavior change models and strategies This 2014 review presents approaches to behaviour change and highlights evidence of their effectiveness. It references applied research relating to how behaviour can be changed in everyday settings and situations.

Applying Behavioural Sciences to EU Policy-making. This 2013 report by René van Bavel and colleagues  is intended as a guide for policy-makers wishing to introduce a more refined understanding of human behaviour into the policy-making process. It begins by discussing the background to the current popularity of applied behavioural science and goes on to cover specific issues that should be taken into account when incorporating behavioural insights into the design, implementation and monitoring of policies.

Habitual behaviors or patterns of practice? Explaining and changing repetitive climate-relevant actions. This 2015 review by Tim Kurz and colleagues looks at “habit” as an individual psychological construct as it is perceived by social psychology, as compared with sociology which focuses less on the individuals who enact such practices and more on the practices themselves. The authors go on to review empirical work from both traditions around the relevance of ‘habit’ to climate-change-related behaviors. Finally, they consider the implications of these perspectives for understanding and modifying climate-relevant actions.

Older posts, reports and papers

Habits, Routines and Sustainable Lifestyles. This 2011 report by Andrew Darnton and colleagues  provides a  summary of findings from a literature review on the role of habit in relation to sustainable behaviours. It sets out the theory on habit from two different perspectives, identifies effective techniques for bringing about habit change, and draws out implications for policy makers and practitioners.

www_iconHow the science of behavior change can help with sustainability This article is a good place to start if this is a new topic to you. In this 2011 Guardian article Les Robinson shares his tips on how the science of behavior change can help to make sustainability initiatives more effective. He addresses some of the key questions such as “how to move beyond the converted?, and what to do when people just don’t appear interested. The role of key theories of change are explained.

Beyond the ABC: climate change policy and theories of social change. In this short and deliberately provocative 2010 paper Elizabeth Shove reflects on what seems to be a yawning gulf between the potential contribution of the social sciences and the typically restricted models and concepts of social change embedded in contemporary environmental policy in the UK, and in other countries too. As well as making a strong case for going beyond what she refers to as the dominant paradigm of ABC (attitude, behaviour, and choice), she discusses the attractions of this model, the blind spots it creates, and the forms of governance it sustains. This paper provides some insight into why so much relevant social theory remains so marginalised, and helps identify opportunities for making better use of existing intellectual resources. A good summary of the paper can be found here  – Going beyond the ABC of climate change policy.

Supporting Collective Action in Pest Management – Aims and Frameworks This 2009 report by Will Allen and Chrys Horn introduces concepts that articulate and frame the social directions and processes required to support collective action in many natural resource management issues. It looks at the capacities and skills required. It also offers a checklist for evaluating collaborative action as a final appendix.

The Psychology of Sustainable Behavior.  This 2009 handbook by Christie Manning introduces research-based tips from psychology to underpin efforts to empower sustainability in a range of settings. This document represents many years of psychological studies, and summarizes the studies and findings most relevant to sustainability and sustainable behavior change.
The handbook begins with an overview of the psychology of sustainable behavior. The following section then describes how the tips from psychology fit into sustainability campaigns and explains how individual sustainability contributes to broader social and policy change.

www_iconReference Report: An overview of behaviour change models and their uses  This 2008 report by Andrew Darnton has been designed to accompany the Practical Guide to Behaviour Change models (see next entry). It provides a descriptive account of over 60 social-psychological models and theories of behaviour and discusses some issues to consider when using models. It also provides additional resources in the Appendices to enable readers to access the vast amount of literature in this area and see where models have been used to address particular behaviours previously. This review makes the distinction between models of behaviour and theories of change. A short policy briefing guide on behaviour change work is also provided.

A framework for pro-environmental behaviours This 2008 report sets out a framework for Defra’s work on pro-environmental behaviour. It pulls together evidence on public understanding, attitudes and behaviours; identifies behaviour goals; and draws conclusions on the potential for change across a range of behaviour groups

www_iconTools of Change: Proven Methods for Promoting Health, Safety and Environmental Citizenship This Canadian website, founded on the principles of community-based social marketing, offers specific tools, case studies, and a planning guide for helping people take actions and adopt habits that promote health and/or are more environmentally-friendly. This Web site will help you include in your programs the best practices of many other programs – practices that have already been successful in changing people’s behaviour.

Behaviour change intervention tools This 2009 report by Ashlea Bartram provides a review of empirical studies on the use of a range of tools in voluntary behaviour change interventions in order to draw conclusion about the effectiveness of these tools. These tools were  classified as prompts, norm appeals, commitment, feedback or incentives.

www_iconUnderstanding and influencing behaviours: a review of social research, economics and policy making in Defra This discussion paper draws on experience within Defra using a range of case studies to highlight how policy development is taking practical steps to deliver ‘change’. The premise for this paper is that the heart of the issue is not about „behaviour change? but rather how translating a better understanding of behaviours (gained via economic and social research) directly into policy can influence change through the provision of evidence based, highly effective instruments. Whilst not an exhaustive review, the paper demonstrates how research and analysis is helping to understand behaviour, how this shapes our thinking about policy development and informs the choice of interventions adopted. Another useful Defra report is A framework for pro-environmental behaviours 

Social marketing  is a closely related topic.