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Design, Behaviour & Policy: Part II

This is the follow up post to yesterday’s which reported on some of the areas in which policy makers are interested in encouraging behaviour change. Rather than covering particular examples of persuasive technology, this post will look at broader ways in which design can contribute to encouraging behaviour change.

Of course, almost anything that is designed could be said to encourage behaviour change – from (as someone pointed out to me) the “WORK HARD AND BE NICE TO PEOPLE” print by Anthony Burrill that hangs in one of the offices in the RSA, through designers like Shin and Tomoko Azumi who used to describe their work as “changing people’s behaviour in a subtle way“, to the more deliberate and strategic attempts at behaviour change written about on this blog. Since this is a post written from the point of view of policy makers wondering how design might help achieve specific and measurable goals – I’ll concentrate on examples and design thinking from the more tactical end of this scale.

One of my favourite examples of design influencing behaviour illustrates the value of research leading to particular insights, which can then be fed in to creative problem solving techniques to create a great new service. IDEO (an innovation and design firm) were commissioned by Bank of America to attract new customers (the target demographic was baby boomer women with children) at a time when people were spending much more than they were saving. IDEO carried out extensive qualitative research (interviews, photo and notebook surveys, impromptu conversations on the street, group discussions between friends and strangers) across Atlanta, Baltimore and San Francisco, which led to insights like this:

many people in both the target audience and the general public would often round up their financial transactions for speed and convenience. In addition, the team found that many moms had difficulty saving what money they had, whether due to a lack of resources or willpower. [1]

This behaviour was routinely seen, for example, in a photograph of the cheque book of one woman who rounded up her utility bills when paying them. Feeding insights like this into brainstorming sessions, IDEO came up with a service that allowed customers to round up payments when using a Bank of America credit card but automatically paid the difference into the customer’s savings account. After prototyping the service with Bank of America, the “Keep the Change” bank account was launched in 2005, attracting over 2.5 million customers, and creating savings of $1 billion in these “round-ups” alone.

I like this example as it illustrates how an existing behaviour can be turned into a positive one given the right intervention, shows the breadth and creativity of activities that are included in the design process, could easily have come from a brief devised by government, and reminds me how much money I have tied up in the many piles of small change I have around the house…

Here’s another one. The UK’s Design Council run a programme of social design projects, the last of which was in the north east of England in 2007. One of these projects was called Low Carb Lane, and was led by designers from service design company live|work. Low Carb Lane aimed to make energy efficiency easy – both to reduce CO2 emissions and save money.

The Low Carb Lane team spent about a year with residents of Castle Terrace, learning about the community, the local social and economic situation, and unearthing (among other things) links between concerns over ownership (owner-occupier vs. rented) of the houses in the street, its physical degradation, declining community spirit, and attitudes towards climate change.

In response to this research, in addition to developing a system of small home loans for energy efficiency measures (like insulation) that are repaid through the energy savings gained (about 40%), live|work’s project involved designing a home energy dashboard that displayed information on the home’s energy consumption, CO2 emissions and bills. live|work’s research showed that this system could produce behaviour change resulting in a further 20% saving.

live|work were early practioners of this sort of work, but many companies (like those mentioned in this post) are now working in this area and hoping to create the same sort of savings on a national scale.

Examples like these show the value of thoughtful field research, creative problem solving, and a willingness to prototype. These skills are only enhanced by the addition of new insights (like persuasive technology) into designing for behaviour change.

Does anyone else have good examples of how design can contribute to encouraging behaviour change?

[1] IDEO, Available from: http://www.ideo.com/work/featured/bofa,
more details at:
http://www.ideo.com/images/uploads/thinking/publications/pdfs/IDEO_Innovation_07.pdf

Design, Behaviour & Policy: Part I

I wrote in an earlier post about the growth of interest in the UK government around encouraging behaviour change. As one of the aims of this project is to get the design community involved in this challenge, it seems worth mentioning (for designers’ benefit) a couple of specific areas in which behaviour change is currently sought after by government. I’ll follow this post soon with another (for policy makers’ benefit) looking at a couple of ways (apart from the “persuasive technology” examples) in which designers have done a great job of designing for behaviour change.

It’s fair to say that interest in behaviour change is booming at the national level of UK government. For example, a recent review of behaviour change models (and guidelines for applying them in policy) was carried out by Government Social Research (GSR) (an office that belongs to the Treasury, but works across twenty government departments), which describes the rationale behind the interest in behaviour change:

Policy making for behaviour change recognises that individuals need to change their own behaviour in order for government’s wider goals for society to be achieved. The need for policy, which explicitly aims to bring about behavioural change among individuals is based on the realisation that for some complex problems, government cannot bring about change on its own. Lasting change requires a total partnership approach led by government, and including a wide range of stakeholders and organisations, as well as individuals themselves. [1]

This shift from top-down government to co-productive governance is marked by a retreat from policy makers’ reliance on traditional policy instruments (fiscal incentives and taxes), now recognised to be effective only on perfectly rational people (a rare breed), towards the more complex models of behaviour described in such reviews. These more sophisticated models draw people’s attitudes, agency, social norms, habits and emotions into the equation.

GSR’s report is the first cross-departmental initiative on behaviour change, but comes on top of other work that has taken place in various departments.

One of the departments most prominent in the field is Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) who have recently established an Environmental Behaviours Unit, who’s job it is to:

“assemble, analyse and translate evidence related to pro-environmental behaviours and to work within Defra and with external stakeholders to improve the design and implementation of policy interventions aimed at helping individuals and communities live more environmentally sustainable lifestyles.” [2]

The Department for Transport (in work also related to climate change) has shown interest in behaviour change and was ahead of the curve, publishing research in 2006 on why people’s knowledge and attitudes about climate change fail to turn in to actual changes in travel behaviour. As an aside, the DfT regret the fact that there is no ‘grand unified theory’ of behaviour change – a problem that the RSA is currently working on.

As might be expected, the Department of Health are interested in behaviour change, looking at how social marketing techniques might be applied to encourage behaviour change and setting up a specific Social Marketing and Health-related Behaviour Team. Communities and Local Government are also in the process of conducting research to find out (among other things) which behaviours are desirable and what their drivers are, and the department for Children, Schools and Families have a large body of practical research on behaviour in schools.

The Cabinet Office are also in the act, with their work in 2008 on achieving culture change, which concentrates on the idea of cultural capital – people’s attitudes, values, aspirations and sense of self-worth. Even the Foreign Office have a chapter in a report on how communications can change behaviour.

Some interesting work is conducted by the Department for International Development (DFID), who as well as funding South Africa’s most popular soap opera – which always make a point of using condoms in their storylines – also distribute female condoms via hair salons in Zimbabwe – “Get braids, not AIDS” – as the headline says.

DFID’s example is a bit of fresh air to be honest – the behaviour change conversation in government can seem (to an outsider) repetitive and rather lacking in creative ideas. For example, Defra’s consultation with energy suppliers over the supplier obligation policy (a commitment that will run from 2011 and require energy suppliers to meet CO2 reduction targets by providing their domestic customers with energy efficiency measures) showed energy suppliers feared the extent to which Defra was relying on them to produce behaviour change in their customers. Defra had hoped to save a quarter of all savings after 2011 by behaviour change, and to create this huge behaviour change and associated CO2 saving, suggested roughly these measures:

  • Activities of the Energy Saving Trust
  • Energy Performance Certificates
  • Climate change communications
  • Real-time displays and smart meters
  • Personal carbon allowances

Do you think designers could help create better behavioural policies?

[1] Darnton, A. (2008) Briefing Note for Policy Makers, GSR Behaviour Change Knowledge Review. Available from:
http://www.gsr.gov.uk/downloads/resources/behaviour_change_review/policy_briefing.pdf.
[2] Defra, (2008) A Framework for pro-Environmental Behaviours. Available from:
http://www.defra.gov.uk/evidence/social/behaviour/pdf/behaviours-jan08-report.pdf


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