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Behaviour change for policy and practice. Let us teach you how

Behaviour change for policy and practice. Let us teach you how

Why study behaviour change?

If there is anything we’ve learned in 2020, it’s that behaviour matters. Not long ago, Barack Obama, while in office, signed an Executive Order entitled, ‘Using Behavioral Science Insights to Better Serve the American People’. It recognised the need to embed behavioural science thinking in policy development.

By Dr Filia Garivaldis, Senior Lecturer, BehaviourWorks Australia

Around the same time, the European Union commissioned the ‘Behavioural Insights Applied to Policy – European Report 2016’, which presented an inventory of policy initiatives for 32 European countries, which are either implicitly or explicitly informed by behavioural insights.

In the United Kingdom, funding has increased in recent years to support behavioural science research.

Behaviour change has gone mainstream

In our everyday lives, personal and professional, behaviour change has recently acquired new meaning; we’ve suddenly become behaviour change enthusiasts, either by choice or by force. From having to persuade each other to social distance to shopping more of what we need and less of what we want to finding the strength to ‘work from home’ effectively when a fridge full of hoarded food is in the room next door.

Broader implications

Chances are that we have also identified the need for further changes to be made in our lives, from producing less waste in our homes, using less energy and less water, growing our own food, and making better use of digital technologies to bring new efficiencies to what we do.

At work, you may be thinking about how to get members of your organisation to take regular breaks from the computer, to change how they use technology, or simply to respond to an email.

All in all, we need others, as well as ourselves, to do something differently to what we normally do.

As countries begin to come out of the COVID-19 state of emergency, there is an opportunity to create change that is well-informed, pre-prepared, planned and carefully executed.

Now, more than ever, it is important for us to understand what we need to be doing differently – and how.

How behavioural science works

The key to unlocking change lies within a good understanding of the drivers and barriers to change, all of which stem from the nature of human behaviour.

Behavioural scientists are concerned with trying to understand human behaviour, from what prompts an individual to behave in a certain way to how an individual’s behaviour influences the next person – and the person after that.

More relevant than ever

It is in these strange times that behavioural scientists need to offer solutions to the world’s problems more than ever and an understanding of the science of human behaviour can be a real asset.

No wonder upskilling on the science and practice of behaviour change is a great idea.

Let’s summarise the main reasons as to why learning about behavioural science is important:

  • we need to understand human behaviour to be able to change human behaviour
  • there is a myriad of reasons why we do the things we do and each of these things is influenced by different sets of reasons.

To illustrate, shopping for what we need involves different drivers of behaviour and different decision-making processes, compared to shopping for what we want.

An understanding of these drivers of behaviour can reveal that change is a more complex process than originally thought. But only through this understanding can behaviour change become attainable.

Changing human behaviour involves processes and principles that are the opposite of common sense and rationality.

Behavioural science has proven again and again that whilst humans are capable of great things, we have significant weaknesses in using our rationality.

Our decisions aren’t always rational

There are over 200 biases that have been identified, and they often prevent us from making fool-proof decisions.

Knowing where some of our biggest weaknesses lie can help us get around these weaknesses to achieve the desired change.

Changing human behaviour means we also need to become conscious of what we are not consciously aware of.

Human behaviour is driven by non-conscious processes, akin to being on auto-pilot, 95% of the time. In other words, this 95% of what we do, we do without thinking. This works for us—it is adaptive. However, how can we achieve thoughtful change if we are not aware of what we do?

Behavioural scientists have tools that help us work with, instead of against, this adaptive human condition, to achieve behaviour change purposefully.

By changing human behaviour in one domain, we gain hope that change is possible in other domains too, making what was previously thought impossible or unworkable, possible and workable.

The changes we all need

Behavioural scientists agree that it is at times of great upheaval, such as those we are experiencing in the wake of COVID-19, that are the best times to create intentional change, for the better. You may have been left surprised by the changes that have been achieved in the world since the beginning of 2020.

Change often requires this conscious act of stopping and reflecting on current practice. Now, while people around the world have become consciously aware of what they are doing and not doing, is the best time to get members of your community or organisation to set new routines and habits, in the right direction.

BehaviourWorks Australia (BWA) is committed to improving behaviour change literacy and giving industry professionals the knowledge and skills they need to tackle common and complex program and policy challenges.

BWA’s training program has ‘something for everyone’ from short courses to in-depth investigations.

Check out our February 2021 Training Special for details on our current short and long courses; some of which are subsidised by the Australian Government.

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