Our research

Can science help Melbournians behave better?

Here’s a hint – yes.

As part of National Science Week, EPA Victoria hosted an event at Federation Square in Melbourne on 18 August entitled" ‘World’s most liveable city? Can science help Melbourne do better? 

BWA’s very own Sarah Kneebone was on the panel, discussing the ins and outs of why Melbourne has kept its title as the most ‘liveable’ city in the world.

Hosted by EPA’s Dr Anthony Boxshall, the esteemed panel included Andy Fergus from the City of Melbourne, Professor Billie Giles-Corti from RMIT, Mark Burry from the Smart Cities Institute and, of course, Sarah.

Much was discussed – but because we’re biased, the following is a summary with a strong behaviour change skew:

- Melbourne still has many challenges,

- Urban living and design are crucial to a community’s health,

- Melbourne’s North West is growing rapidly but without much planning,

- The things that cause ill health are lack of jobs, poor transport and lack of social infrastructure; these are the social determinants of health, and strong factors in what makes a city ‘liveable’,

People are strange. We know that our behaviour is driven by a range of things, and we need to think about how to design the world 
according to our attitudes, values, habits and biases.

What exactly does ‘Liveability’ mean?

To economists, ‘liveability’ can be used to help executives decide where to live; when they talk about ‘environment’ it could mean the weather. It’s not just about efficient delivery of services or lots of tech startups, it’s about prosperity for all citizens.

Any community needs to be safe and socially cohesive, environmentally sustainable, have affordable housing and have public open space, shops and services linked by transport, footpaths and bike paths.

We need to operate within the water cycle, so that cities harvest, use and purify the water that falls on it.

This technology exists and can transform how we design our cities. As much rain falls in the greater Melbourne areas as the city itself uses, so we know we can be smarter when it comes to water management.
 
How can we get clever about change for the better?

Technology has got into some of the strife we’re in now – so we need be smarter about how we use it.  
We have to take responsibility for the products we make and think about the consequences. For example wipes that might be flushable, but not environmental. If doctors swear to do no harm, scientists should do the same.

When it comes to behaviour change, one of the issues we have is that when we ask people don’t like to reduce consumption; immediate sacrifices don’t go down well. 

We are subject to biases like Loss Aversion, where we cant let go of a habit even if we know its good not for us.

Smart cities are clever about how they allocate resources and value them – water used to be free, as were garbage tips, but we pay for and value them now.
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Billie Giles-Corti, Anthony Boxshall, Sarah Kneebone and Mark Burry
Can we use behavioural science to change the way we behave?

We know it can work. For example, during the Millennium drought, there was a mass change in our attitude and practices around water use. We took shorter showers and fitted rainwater tanks in back yards. 

Over 10 years, Melbourne’s water consumption went from 250 litres per day (one of the worst) to under 150 litres per person per day.  

It’s a drop of over 100 litres, and an extraordinary behaviour change.

How long do behavioural changes last?

Some become normalised – in Melbourne, we have kept water saving devices, like tanks and shower heads.

Even well after the ‘Target 155’ campaign, the average use is around 167 litres per person per day. We need to connect policy to science, to make sure all the arguments and data are available so we can make smart choices about how we live. The liveable city has up until now been design for citizens.

Now it has to be with citizens. It will be shaped differently than it was in the past.

In summary, it was an inspiring panel and a real credit to those involved. 

To watch the entire event, follow this link.