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.

Motivation for change = understanding + ability + imperative

A useful starting point is this introductory LfS post – Influencing practice change: An introduction to behaviour change models and strategies – that provides a framework for thinking about behaviour change theory, models and practice. The links below point to other sources providing information and guidance around the potential for influencing constructive change.

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.

Achieving behaviour change: A guide for local government and partners
This 2019 guide is written for anyone working in local government or partners whose remit involves changing behaviour. The guide is based on the Behaviour Change Wheel (BCW), a framework for understanding behaviour in its context and developing interventions and policies to change behaviour. It has been prepared by Susan Michie, Robert West and colleagues from The Centre for Behaviour Change, based at University College London. The guide can be used flexibly according to need and circumstance rather than necessarily following a fixed sequence of steps.

Designing policy interventions to change environmental behaviours: theory and practice
This 2019 review paper by Terry Parminter reviews some of the available frameworks and models for understanding human behaviour. These are described separately from frameworks that can be used to develop strategies for influencing behaviour change. The paper also includes frameworks that consider the conscious and subconscious relationships between attitudes and behaviour (dual processing) as well as the contextual issues involved in societal change.

Advancing conservation by understanding and influencing human behavior
Sheila Reddy et al. (2016) Conservation Letters
Behavioral sciences have informed policy in many other realms (e.g., health, savings), but they are a largely untapped resource for conservation. The authors propose a set of guiding questions for applying behavioral insights to conservation policy. These questions help define the conservation problem as a behavior change problem, understand behavioral mechanisms and identify appropriate approaches for behavior change (awareness, incentives, nudges), and evaluate and adapt approaches based on new behavioral insights.

Open Policy Making toolkit
This guide includes 2017 information about Open Policy Making as well as the tools and techniques (UK) policy makers can use to create more open and user led policy. These pages are part of a grouping around policy development. Also see Policy Lab as a space (and associated blog) for developing and disseminating new policy tools and techniques for the UK Government. Policy Lab is a creative space where policy teams can develop the knowledge and skills to develop policy in a more open, data-driven, digital and user-centred way.

Beyond the roots of human inaction: Fostering collective effort toward ecosystem conservation
This 2017 paper by Elise Amel and colleagues notes that psychologists already contribute to individual-level behavior-change campaigns in the service of sustainability, but attention is turning toward understanding and facilitating the role of individuals in collective and collaborative actions that will modify the environmentally damaging systems in which humans are embedded. Especially crucial in moving toward long-term human and environmental well-being are transformational individuals who step outside of the norm, embrace ecological principles, and inspire collective action.

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.

Enablers of Change
John James and Denise Bewsell use their Enablers of Change site to share their thoughts and ideas about enabling change. They have produced a series of insightful blogs, videos and podcasts about different topics around enabling change, particularly in agricultural industries and regional communities.

Changing 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.

Motivating 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.

Behavior 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 [PDF] 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.

Influencing behaviours – moving beyond the individual: ISM user guide
ISM is a practical tool that has been developed from a sound conceptual model and refined through research and live projects. ISM is based on theory and evidence which shows that three different contexts – the Individual, Social and Material – influence people’s behaviours. One of the key principles of ISM (shown here on the Scotish government website) is that interventions should take account of influences across multiple contexts – I, S and M – in order to achieve substantive and long lasting change.

The behaviour change wheel: A new method for characterising and designing behaviour change interventions
This paper by Susan Michie, Maartje van Stralen and Robert West evaluates a range of frameworks of behaviour change, and develops and evaluates a new framework aimed at overcoming their limitations. At the centre of a proposed new framework is a ‘behaviour system’ involving three essential conditions: capability, opportunity, and motivation (what we term the ‘COM-B system’). This forms the hub of a ‘behaviour change wheel’ (BCW) around which are positioned the nine intervention functions aimed at addressing deficits in one or more of these conditions; around this are placed seven categories of policy that could enable those interventions to occur.

Social marketing  is a closely related topic.