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How Behavioural Systems Mapping Can Prioritise Solutions

How Behavioural Systems Mapping Can Prioritise Solutions

We utilised Behavioural Systems Mapping to identify the behaviours that can create big systems impact in driving a circular economy.

What do you get when you combine the strengths of systems mapping and behavioural science? An integrated diagram that addresses complex challenges - known as Behavioural Systems Mapping (BSM). Here, we dive into the inception of BSM, how it can be used to address complex sustainability challenges, and our researchers’ innovative approach to using it in the Behavioural Roadmap to Circular Consumption.

Read more about the Behavioural Roadmap to Circular Consumption

What is systems mapping?

Systems mapping is a tool used to identify relationships between entities within a system. Meadows, who popularised the application of systems mapping in a sustainability context, uses the example of a human body to articulate this in her book ‘Thinking in Systems’. A human body is a complex system made up of many interconnected parts that rely on each other to function every day. Taking out just one small part of the system—let’s say an organ—may seem inconsequential, but can really disrupt the capacity for the system to function. This example can be extended to biodiversity. Where an ecosystem is made up of so many moving parts, and when one is removed, it can have a ripple effect on the rest. Uncovering and understanding relationships that exist in a system can aid in problem solving and decision making processes and navigate the complexities of a challenge. 

Then there’s behavioural science..

Where systems mapping provides a broad, macro view, behavioural science and the use of behaviour change tools takes a micro lens to understand why us humans do what we do. This involves using traditional behavioural science methods, such as Susan Michie’s behaviour change wheel, that identifies factors that influence an individual’s behaviours - like their physical environment or motivation to do something. At Behaviourworks Australia, a typical approach could comprise a stakeholder analysis and relationship mapping, to determine who could change what in order to address the problem. 

So what’s the problem? Researchers from the Centre for Behaviour Change, University College London, writes that typically one of these approaches will be used instead of the other, as opposed to them both in tandem. The issue with using just one, is that you miss out on the bigger (or smaller) picture. But these approachesdon’t have to be mutually exclusive. That’s where behavioural systems mapping (BSM) comes in: by integrating these two together, it enriches our understanding of a system and, hopefully, leads to more effective change. 

The Behaviour Change Wheel (Michie et al., 2011)

The best of both worlds: Harnessing behavioural systems mapping for complex challenges 

Developed by behavioural researchers from the Centre for Behaviour Change, University College London, Behavioural systems mapping (BSM) takes the best elements of systems mapping and behavioural science to identify key components of complex systems. Integrating these tools gives you a more holistic view of how things work. It draws clearer links between various behaviours of key stakeholders which may otherwise not be visible when using only one of the two techniques. The result? A visual overview of the interdependencies that exist in a system, with practical guidance on where and how to intervene to address complex challenges. 

BSM in action: Applying it as a prioritisation tool

Diving into the complex world of the circular economy, our researchers Jennifer Macklin and Lena Jungbluth, leaned on BSM in their latest project: the Behavioural Roadmap to Circular Consumption.

The circular economy is not unlike the human body: a complex system made up of many moving elements, all interconnected. In considering our transition to a circular economy, what’s a major element necessary in driving this transition? Changing human behaviour. That’s where BSM comes in. Jennifer and Lena used online mapping software to develop their behavioural systems map, drawing the connections between 130 behaviours by various types of stakeholders. This ingenious approach revealed 8 core circular consumption behaviours to focus on in order to curb our material footprint.

But Jennifer and Lena added a new twist on the tool: they cleverly tailored it as a means to prioritise behaviours that could have the biggest systems impact and select where to intervene now to change behaviours into the future. They used system mapping principles to understand the importance of borrowing and renting, buying products second-hand instead of new, along with championing products that are built to last.

They then used the tool to quantify the ‘system influence’ of each behaviour identified. This revealed the single most influential behaviour: government mandating minimum design / import standards’ that promote product lifetime. 

In a world full of complex challenges, holistic tools like BSM are invaluable. Multifaceted systems, such as the circular economy or other wicked problems including biodiversity conservation, climate change, and public health, require multi-level interventions that respond to both the elements of the system and the behaviours of the individuals. 

Read more about the Behavioural Roadmap to Circular Consumption

Contact us to enquire about the Behavioural Roadmap to Circular Consumption or how you can apply BSM as a tool to prioritise behaviours that will create the biggest systems impact and find solutions for your wicked problem.

Written by Milly Graham

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