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Professor John Thwaites presents on Behaviour Change and the SDGs

A methodical approach to behaviour change

In November 2017, BehaviourWorks Australia Chair, Professor John Thwaites, visited the Jeffrey Sachs Centre on Sustainable Development in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a conference workshop on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

While there, he conducted sessions on Behaviour Change and the SDGs, prompting a response which, he says, was “excellent” and “an eye-opener for many of the delegates”. 

The workshop was attended by senior officials from economic and social planning ministries in Malaysia, China, Indonesia and Vietnam and was delivered by four of the biggest names in sustainability: Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Guido Schmidt-Traub (Executive Director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network), Professor Wing Thye Woo (Director of the Jeffrey Sachs Centre) and Professor Thwaites himself.

“I conducted an exercise to get the officials to identify particular behaviours they wanted to change from the list of potential problems,” explains John. 

Looking at driver distraction through a behavioural lens

“The most popular ‘problem’ was how to stop drivers using their mobile phones while driving; a real doozy since it is already illegal.”

Driver distraction due to mobile phones is a growing concern for authorities everywhere.

Governments and social planners worldwide are trying to decide which intervention – policy and compliance, behavioural ‘nudges’, market incentives – will be the most effective.

While many would see the solution as simply enforcing the laws around mobile phone use while driving, experience from other social shifts shows there needs to be a range of approaches for significant changes to societal norms. 

As chair of BWA, John Thwaites is committed to using behavioural science to help achieve the SDGs.  He presented participants with copies of the BehaviourWorks Method – a publication about a three-phase change kit for unpacking problems, identifying drivers and barriers to behaviours and trialling interventions. It proved to be very popular.

“I was extremely proud of the outstanding work that BehaviourWorks has done in developing ‘The Method’,” said Professor Thwaites.

He believes these kinds of workshops are vital in terms of generating knowledge about behaviour change tools and techniques to improve the implementation of sustainable development throughout Asia.


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