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Little known gems: Spark Wave’s 10 Conditions for Change

Little known gems: Spark Wave’s 10 Conditions for Change

Authors: Peter Slattery and Alexander Saeri

The following review is part of a new BehaviourWorks series, ‘Little known gems of behaviour science’ where we discuss interesting and important, but relatively unknown, behaviour change theory and research.

The American ‘startup foundry’ Spark Wave recently released its ‘Ten Conditions for Change’ model (aka ‘a framework for creating positive behaviors’).

Spark Wave creates software companies to solve important problems related to decision-making, mental health and social science (e.g., Clearer Thinking, MindEase, Uplift and Positly).

We were interested in the model because, aparted from anything else, it is unusual and commendable to see a private company, i) consider the behaviour change literature in such detail and, ii) invest time and effort in collating and sharing learnings. It is a great example of companies using entrepreneurial research norms to produce fast and usable outputs.

In this article we describe the framework, review it through an applied behavioural science lens and make recommendations for its future use.

The Ten Conditions for Change framework (TCC)

The TCC framework is intended to be comprehensive, but easily applicable for non-experts.

Spark Wave describes it as a framework for tackling positive, “complex” behaviours, which require the target person or population to engage willingly in the change and perform multiple actions across time.

The TCC proposes that lasting behaviour change takes place if ten conditions (which occur across three phases) are met (figure right).

On the Spark Wave website, the team discuss each phase and condition in detail. They also provide a guide for using the framework both as an intervention planning tool and a tool for evaluating intervention failures.

They discuss the large range of different behaviour change strategies that can be used to achieve each condition and the 16 behaviour change frameworks that the model was based on and their relationship to the TCC.

These include frameworks that BehaviourWorks also uses frequently, such as Susan Michie’s COM-B model (‘capability’, ‘opportunity’, ‘motivation’ and ‘behaviour’), the Behavior Change Technique Taxonomy, the Fogg Behaviour Model and the Theory of Planned Behaviour.

Reviewing the framework

The TCC is one of many frameworks used to change behaviour. Its focus on individual behaviour differentiates it from more abstract and complex frameworks, such as the BehaviourWorks Method, which don’t simply focus on how to change behaviour, but also on how to understand, prioritise and measure it. The TCC is also differentiated by its focus on the maintenance of behaviour.

Most behaviour change frameworks target one-off behaviour change and rarely explore how and why to sustain behaviour change. This is highly problematic, as it gives the wrong impression: that one-off behaviour changes will always sustain themselves.

This impression can lead people to overlook the many challenges and complexities that come with sustaining behaviour change. This, in turn, contributes to the use of interventions that will fail or even backfire when used outside the context that they are tested in.

One question we have about the framework is, how, and why, are ‘actions’ distinct from the ‘target behaviour’ being changed?

If ‘actions’ are the behaviours (e.g., stop buying cigarettes) that are needed to achieve the ‘target behaviour’ (e.g., stop smoking), then perhaps it might be clearer to draw from evaluation practices and label such ‘actions’ as intermediate behaviours?

Additionally, why are the conditions needed for the ‘target behaviour’ not required for each ‘action’? For example, say the ‘target behaviour’ is to vaccinate my child. I might fail to do this behaviour by failing to consider a key ‘action’. However, the framework does not explicitly discuss the relevant conditions (e.g., considering, desiring and intending) required to perform each ‘action’. Perhaps the model assumes that all actions have already been considered, desired and intended. If so, this assumption should probably be made more explicit.

Finally, it would be excellent to see an example of the framework being applied, as this would make it easier to understand and how to use it in practice.

In summary

Our overall view is that the Ten Conditions for Change framework is a useful addition to the list of existing behaviour change frameworks.

The DAC process (decision, action, continuation), categorisation and visualisation chunks the information nicely and makes it easy to remember and act upon. The summaries of the frameworks that informed the TCC are also very useful for getting a broad overview of current theory in this space.

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