Well behaviour change has certainly changed
Samantha Heath, chief executive of the London Sustainabilty Exchange (LSx), and Gayle Burgess, Behaviour Change Programme Director, reflect on their experience of connecting and motivating people for a more sustainable London, drawing lessons for current and future work to change behaviour.
The challenge of getting Londoners to lead “greener”, healthier lives — to reduce their waste, conserve energy and water, recycle more, eat healthily and exercise more and so on — is a mighty one.
In LSx’s early years, the clarion call for sustainable lifestyle choices and behavioural change was typically “If everyone in the world lived as Londoners do, we would need three planets’ worth of resources” . For quite a while the vision of living the ideal of a ‘One Planet lifestyle’ was the descriptor of choice: people and governments were able to understand it, we thought they could imagine it. But over the years we have found referring to planets and future generations has been less useful than we first thought.
At LSx our mission is to accelerate the transition to a sustainable London by connecting and motivating people. Over the years we have worked with diverse communities across the capital to explore what works and why. One thing we can state categorically: there is no magic bullet, and there is no one size fits all approach to supporting Londoners to live healthily and sustainably.
London is a unique city with dynamic demographics. It is the largest city in Europe with a population approaching 8 million, London is also a culturally diverse city, and our classrooms are filled with over 300 languages.
The psychosocial, socio-cultural and political environments are highly complex and dynamic, providing constantly changing opportunities and problems for businesses, organisations and communities, and a challenging context for those looking at the demand side of resource use.
Our journey has taken us from simple messages designed to support attitude changes to a much more sophisticated incentivised approach tuning into the values of the communities that we are working with, and enabling change so that when the programme is over the work has a chance of continuing; not so much sticky behaviours as sticky processes.
Challenges to changing behaviour
Our LSx Behaviour Change Programme has worked and reworked social marketing and community development techniques.
Our pilot projects are developed and delivered with culturally diverse communities across the capital, identifying key motivators, and barriers and effective ways to address these. We have found it important to tune into communities and create a range of creative and culturally appropriate outreach activities and communication channels. These have changed our way of looking at the world, constantly questioning why on earth people would want to create a change, and making sure their (spiritual) neighbours and friends are equally enthused.
The thing that has made us less loved by our partners, is our need to measure the effectiveness of what we do. On many occasions this has felt like constantly digging up the seedling to examine the roots. However as time is definitely of the essence, if we don’t know what works or fails, how can we progress? This has been the toughest call, sometimes departing from what many call common sense and ensuring we really do learn and change ourselves in order to maximise the benefit of our work.
A strategic approach to changing behaviour
Accelerating the transition to a sustainable London requires not only an increased awareness and change in attitudes amongst Londoners but also, crucially, a change in behaviour and a sense of ownership and empowerment.
Things have come a long way since Triandis’ Theory of Interpersonal Behaviour (1977) and Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behaviour (1985/91). Both of these widely cited models imply a – reasonably – rational, almost linear, approach to a person’s decision to do something: but as we all know, the reality is a lot more complex. Just because a person has the intention or desire to do something, it doesn’t always mean they do it. The recognition of this rapidly lead to the coining of concepts such as ‘Value-Action Gap’.
Defra has done much, through action research and stakeholder consultation, to whittle down some basic principles and approaches we can apply through policies and projects to encourage pro-environmental behaviour.
This has been critical in generating a clearer picture of the complex mix of things that influence what we do. It has even provided us with some common cornerstones to consider: tailoring messages to values and segments, considering social norms and the role of especially influential individuals in our lives; and the pivotal points in any decent social marketing project of engaging, exemplifying, encouraging and enabling. Defra’s most recent Framework on Sustainable Lifestyles has built on this to give us an impressive array of situational and behavioural factors that are worth being aware of (more than 20 in total) but the overarching message aligns quite closely with our own: essentially start with people (we’d add focus on the positives and don’t patronise!).
Guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) indicates approaches that help communities to work as equal partners, or provide them with total control, lead to more positive health outcomes. And, we can concur, creating a bottom up approach has certainly proved to be a powerful force for change, and many can indeed embrace the changes.
The new ‘Localism’ plans aim to inspire and support us to take a new sense of engagement and ‘ownership’ of the communities we live in. The primary instrument for this is in planning, but there are other instruments hidden away that may take a little while to be realised. It was unfortunate that the New Localism Bill heralded many cuts to local government: certain elements of the Bill are very important to nourish, but a number of vulnerable communities will still need a safety net, and these communities are also likely to suffer from the cuts.
In London, more than most, our communities are made up of a myriad of neighbourhoods. Some of these are interconnected, but for us the localism picture is certainly not neat and tidy. This means that the proposed Neighbourhood Forums may not be easy for us to define, let alone to base a planning system on. Many Local Authorities and residents are just not set up to think at a Lower Super Output Level or even a Ward level.
It is not surprising that Big Society is confusing – we find our societies confusing and often daunting. That’s why at LSx we try to use natural friendship groups and peer to peer networks to define our communities, helping us get to the parts that are seen as ‘harder to reach’.
In 1999, Peter Hall recognised two types of participation: formal involvement such as membership and volunteering; and informal networks of sociability, which people acquire in their leisure time, including pubs and sports clubs. The research uncovered a robust picture of social participation in Britain, concluding that social networks were in quite good shape on the whole, but that membership to a range of societies has a social gradient.
Our experience suggests that it is only through the co-operation of partners and individuals that we can achieve a fundamental shift in the take up of sustainable lifestyles.
In London our communities tend to be built on the social networks so beloved of Gladwell. Since networks provide a wealth of social capital, they provide a useful tool for delivering strategic access to communities whilst providing influential connections. Each individual and each community forms nodes, our thoughts on these were expanded upon and explained by the work of Nicholas Christakis within one or more networks we began looking at how we ‘make our friends fat’. Whilst access to the networks provided access into the community, we also began to realise that certain people within that community were better placed to support this work, and they weren’t the ones that were initially drawn to our cause.
Projects such as time banks, feasting, singing, dancing and social gatherings that support cohesion between generations and different cultures could actively create new 21st century habits and aspirational sustainable lifestyles.
For more information on LSx, its learner networks, or the co-produced incentive programme, please visit the LSx website www.LSx.org.uk or call 020 7324 9400.
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