For communicating behavioural science
As part of its role to build capability within partner organisations, BehaviourWorks recently held a communications workshop for a behavioural insights team as part of a major government regulator.
BWA Research Fellow, Kun Zhao, and content curator Geoff Paine ran the workshop, stepping participants through some of the practical challenges facing BI units when it comes to internal and external communications.
Key to any communications plan, like any behaviour change, is to ask the question ‘Who needs to do what differently?’
Drawing on BehaviourWorks’ well-established method for behaviour change, we developed a ‘Comms Mini Method’, featuring a three-step process:
(1) think about the goal and target audience,
(2) think about drivers and barriers, and
(3) think about crafting your message to best match different communications channels.
Step 1: Identifying the goal and the target audience means asking what do you want this message to achieve and who should it be aimed at? Is it to alert the organisation to a policy change? Is it to share the results of a successful trial so that an intervention can be applied?
Step 2: At its heart, behavioural change is all about drivers and barriers – the things that prompt us to do certain things in certain ways, and the things that prevent us from taking action.
So, the next step is to think about our target audience in these terms and to ask what they need to know to achieve the outcome of the message. Why would they be interested? What would encourage (or prevent them) from taking the desired action? If there is a new regulation, does it need announcing or explaining (or both)? Are you giving your target audience the big picture or the fine detail?
Step 3: The channel of communication frames how the message is received – an email works differently to a poster, a newsletter, a text message, or a tweet.
In the final step, you need to think like your audience to understand their point of view and come up with the most effective hook to make sure they are engaged with the message.
Is it a startling statistic (e.g., there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050)? Is it a quirky insight about people’s social media habits (e.g., the best time to send a newsletter is 10.15am on a Tuesday)?
This is where the art of communication meets the science in the message – once the key decisions have been made about what the message should do and who it’s aimed at, the challenge becomes crafting the most effective way to get that across.
Behavioural science is not magic, but it can be seen that way in many organisations – often our partner teams report colleagues telling them to ‘work some behavioural magic’ on a survey, letter, or document.
While this attitude acknowledges that there is power in behavioural insights, it also suggests many do not recognise that behind the craft is a methodical scientific process.
Workshops like these help break the comms process into a series of decisions, clarifying each element so that experience, testing, and intuition help get the (BI) message across.
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