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Moments of change

Juliet Michaelson, senior researcher at the New Economics Foundation’s Centre for Well-being, describes a recent Defra-commissioned study examining a wide range of opportunities – from parenthood to global financial crisis – for encouraging individual behaviour change.

Achieving the Great Transition to an environmentally sustainable, socially just, well-being producing economy will require everyone participating in it to make substantial changes to their behaviour. Bringing about this level of behaviour change will mean radical transformation at public policy level, to taxation, public spending, regulation and so on.

But in addition to, and perhaps in advance of, these high-level changes, government arguably has a role in encouraging individuals to adopt more environmentally sustainable behaviours. Which is why Defra commissioned nef to examine the question of whether some moments were better than others for government to undertake this encouraging role. The resulting report, ‘Moments of change’ as opportunities for influencing behaviour, has now been published.

The ‘moments’ of the report’s title were defined fairly broadly. We looked at particular moments in the life of individuals: leaving home for the first time, becoming a parent, moving house and retirement. But we also examined significant moments of shock to a country as a whole – chosen examples were were the 1970s oil price shocks, the 2000 UK fuel protests, the California energy crisis, the 2008/9 credit crunch and the impact in Cuba of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Beginning with a review of psychological theories of when people’s behaviours do and do not change, and written by a cross-disciplinary team of nef researchers, the report makes for a pretty interesting and wide-ranging read. Its conclusions are not definitive, but they suggest that some moments are better than others for encouraging behaviour change, and that sometimes this change can stick in the ways which will be required to bring about a more sustainable future.

Further reading

This article was originally published on the NEF blog.

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