Good social change

The green, grass of home: Behaviour change insights from Western Australia

As I write, I’m looking at the very green hills of Wellington’s South Coast, a mix of emerald and kelly green, following our wet winter.  For the past three days I’ve been staying with friends in the hills outside of Perth, where the colours were so very different from home.

A New Zealander looking out the window in Perth, knows they’re in another place.  The colours of the trees and the earth are different, the birds are different, even the sky looks different.  When you step outside the air feels different, and the sounds of the insects and birds are different too.

Where you come from can create visual memories that imprint on your consciousness in ways you can’t always understand, or are not aware of.  It can affect your experience of new places, your comfort in new settings, and how you behave.

This unconscious mindset and behaviour was, in a way, what took me to Perth.  I was there to attend and present at an Australian Association of Social Marketing (AASM) workshoptitled “Influencing community behaviour”. My topic was human-centred design.

It was a great format – five speakers over a half day session, each focusing on a different practical or theoretical aspect of behaviour change practice. It was attended by about forty people, from public health, local government and the social sector in Western Australia.

The event was organised by my friend Luke van der Beeke of Marketing for Change.  He’s an experienced social marketer living and working in Perth, who sits on the Board of the AASM.

Here’s a quick rundown on some of the insights I drew from the workshop:

Storytelling and neuroscience – Dr Ross Gordon, Macquarie University
Ross used an Illawarra energy efficiency campaign as a case study for some lessons about how to combine story telling and neuroscience to achieve behaviour change. He talked about the value of using your research approach to elicit real stories to adapt for your campaign or programme.  He discussed some of the critical factors behind really transformational stories – including generating “narrative transportation” (the technical term for when people get lost in the story). He showed how neuroscience can help you monitor how audiences respond to stories, and which elements of stories are drawing attention, creating introspection, and establishing memory.

Research, insight and theory – Roger Farley, Road Safety Commission
Roger talked us through the culmination of twenty years of insights and lessons from his work in road safety. My big outtakes from this fascinating talk included that continued need for behaviour change practitioners to be brave; our advice won’t always be popular with our political masters, and we have to be prepared to hold the line for what our evidence shows us is right. He also presented the Road Safety Commission’s audience segmentation, which reminded me of just how much I love good segmentation – and his was a really good segmentation, which they’d used to great effect in two campaigns targeting quite different groups: Zero heroes and Time with Mum.

Behavioural economics – Professor David Butler, Murdoch University
David is a professor in economics, specialising in behavioural economics. He talked us through a recent “nudgeathon” which used the theories of behavioural economics to generate ideas to increase volunteering amongst young people. He also reminded us of the key principles of behavioural economics, which are (unsurprisingly to social marketers, but quite surprisingly to behavioural economists) consistent with social marketing theory.

Human-centred design – Tracey Bridges, Portchester Consulting
I talked about the related disciplines of co-design, human (or user) centred design and design thinking and how they relate to behaviour change practice. I talked through some New Zealand case studies (good and bad) and warned against using user-centred design in the absence of other sources of data, or placing too much importance on the conscious responses of participants, without allowing for unconscious drivers. I also talked about the citizenship and participation benefits that can accrue from using these techniques, if you do it well.

Mobile apps for behaviour change – Becky White, Reach HPI
Becky talked us through two examples of apps that are being used to support positive behaviour change. She showed how apps can create engagement through immediacy and interaction. I can’t link you to the apps because neither is publicy available but both provided different forms of support for breastfeeding mothers (and their partners), but I’m sure if you got in touch with Becky she’d be glad to talk about their work.

I spent my short time in Perth with Luke and his family at their home.  So much of that experience was just like my home: two awesome children, football on the television, delicious dinners (both home cooked and outsourced), wine from the fridge and a flat white from the cafe. I felt incredibly comfortable and welcome there, from the moment I arrived.  But it’s funny how, even when your conscious self feels right at home – your unconscious self, your lizard brain, knows you’re not actually at home.  It’s this lizard brain that social marketers need to tap into and speak to.

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