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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

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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

Happy New Year

Apologies for the delay in posts – a long Christmas holiday followed by an attack of the flu does not make for active blogging. There’s plenty more to come though, including several more examples of how design can change behaviour, a look at the ethics of using design to change behaviour, and more details of what else this project hopes to achieve other than bring you news of increasingly whimsical gadgetry…

Yesterday, to coincide with the start of the 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the Consumer Electronics Association published research showing that the environmental impact of gadgets will increasingly influence people’s purchasing choices. Covered by the BBC, (I haven’t managed to locate the original report) the emphasis seemed to be on the impact that consumer electronics have during their manufacture and end-of-life phases, rather than when they are in-use.

And whether that product encouraged its owners to use it (or behave more generally) in a less environmentally impacting way certainly wasn’t mentioned.

Do you think the way a product encourages its users to use it ever be a commercial draw?

Example #3 – Tooth Tunes

Here’s a slightly ridiculous example of design that changes behaviour for anyone looking for stocking-fillers.

The Tooth Tunes toothbrush made by Hasbro plays one of eleven tunes (from “If You’re Happy & You Know it Brush Your Teeth” to Queen’s “We Will Rock You”) for a strict two minutes. As you brush, your teeth pick up the vibrations via the bristles, making the music seem like it’s inside your head. Brushing firmly makes the music louder. As the manufacturer says:

“Your kids will love brushing their teeth to hit songs from some of their favourite artists. As sound vibrations stream from the bristles through their teeth, they hear the music in their heads. But, when they take the bristles off their teeth, the music stops playing in their head. So they’ll actually want to keep brushing for a full two minutes!” [1]

Approved by the British Dental Health Foundation, Tooth Tunes aims to encourage people to brush their teeth for two minutes rather than the more common 45 seconds [2].

To bring it down to the mechanistic level of persusive technology, Tooth Tunes uses operant conditioning to encourage kids to brush their teeth correctly; the reward of the music is only given when they’re brushing correctly.

Would you buy this for your kids?

[1, 2] http://www.hasbro.com/toothtunes/en_GB/default.cfm?page=parents

First Run!

My First Run!

My First Run!

So it’s not a mammoth of a run. In fact, it’s only me returning from the 400m run necessary to calibrate my sensor (I recommend this to figure out what 400m looks like), but isn’t it great to see your (non)performance mapped out?

I’ve decided on a 5km target and have hastily devised a training plan that involves running 3 times a week (optimistic) and starting off at 1km, then adding 1km each week until I hit 5km:

Ambitious?

Ambitious?

I’ll let you know how it goes. If you use Nike+, find me at this team.

Example #2 – Real Time Energy Displays

Energy consumption in the home is invisible, which becomes a social problem when it accounts for 27% of the UK’s CO2 emissions. Part of the problem is that it takes a certain type of person to find beauty in a traditional electricity meter, and they are usually hidden away; installed inside cupboards or above eye level and never looked at.

Enter a broad range of persuasive products; some simple, some sleek, some designer and some made by the so-called iPod of Cleantech, that all try to reduce consumption by making energy visible. The majority of these products rely on a current sensor that clips around the main electricity inlet to a house (although this press release suggests that some may be more sophisticated) and wirelessly transmits the energy data to a portable and hopefully beautiful object that sits on your coffee table and constantly displays it.

How do these real time energy displays (as they have become known) attempt to persuade people to reduce energy consumption? All of them employ self-monitoring (in a similar way to Nike+iPod) to help people become more attuned to how much each of their appliances are consuming and are enabled to make intelligent decisions. Mention of “reward points” suggests some of them employ aspects of tunnelling, like an energy coach might. The more advanced real time energy displays have also seen the potential of the internet, and use (or are planning to use) social networking to create communities around energy consumption, adding surveillance to the list of persuasive techniques. Lastly, real time energy displays function as simulated cause and effect scenarios, allowing people to turn on and off appliances, and see from the display how much CO2 would be emitted each year if they continued to consume energy at such a rate (it is a personal disappointment that none of them are yet hooked up to a climate change model that shows how this would correspond to sea level rise or ecosystem shift… if anyone knows of a climate change model with an API – do let me know).

Real time energy displays are one of the highest profile of products that could be considered persuasive technology, after they had a brief brush with environmental policy in the government’s draft energy bill of 2007, which required energy suppliers to provide such displays to those customers that requested them (as a precursor to a roll-out of smart meters, which are a slightly different kettle of fish). The government engaged suppliers, consumers and OFGEM in consultation and carried out a cost benefit analysis and impact assessment which concluded that given the evidence for such products, the policy would not be cost effective. The requirement was dropped from the bill, illustrating the requirement for robust and quantitative evidence for the effectiveness of such persuasive technology, and also the difficulty of comparing the effectiveness of different displays when effectiveness hangs on the interaction design (and the persuasive power).

So what evidence is there? Studies are thin on the ground and spread over many years (dating back to the oil crisis of the 70s) when interaction design was less advanced, but the most credible review of the literature suggests savings of 5-15% can be obtained by giving people direct feedback of energy consumption. Further tests of real time displays are currently under way (some in conjunction with smart-meter trials) in 8,500 households in the UK and more across the world. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the savings may be even higher; approaching 40%.

However the real time energy display story ends, they may prove to be a landmark case for persuasive technology and behaviour change.

By the way, in addition to making energy visible via real time energy displays, there are also an abundance of conceptual products from the Interactive Institute that are well worth a look.

Example #1 – Nike+iPod

This post has been updated with more info regarding the need for expensive running shoes – see note at the bottom…

My Nike+iPod

My Nike+iPod

Do you exercise enough? What could encourage you to do it more regularly? Nike+iPod might help. It’s a brilliantly-conceived product/service from two colossal design-led brands. It hooks on to existing behaviour and clever technology to make the user experience as natural as possible, leverages the people-power of the web, and uses several persuasive techniques to encourage people to just do it a little bit more seriously.

The product side of Nike+iPod comprises a sensor that slides into the cavity under the insole of your Nike+ running shoe and an add-on for your iPod. The sensor is an accelerometer (the components that make Nintendo Wii remote controllers work) that senses the motion of your feet. Pulses that correspond to your movement are transmitted over a short-range wireless link to the iPod add-on, which logs the pulses and aggregates them to form data about your run.

The product is only half the Nike+iPod story though. Nike have used the web in a similar way to the makers of internet enabled games consoles to form a massive competitive community website. Once you’ve recovered from your run and had a look at your data, you can upload it to the Nike+ website to see how you compare with people all over the world. You can challenge them to compete with you too if you’re feeling combative, or just check out what the top running power tune is – can you guess what it is?

Of course the main behaviour that Nike+iPod encourages is the purchase of expensive running shoes (the cheaper Nike trainers don’t have the sensor cavity), but how does it do at persuading people to run more? Let’s look at which of B. J. Fogg’s persuasive techniques it uses.

The most obvious technique employed by Nike+iPod is self monitoring (simply allowing people to monitor their behaviour by making that information available to them); the training logs that build up over the weeks let you see how you are improving. During your run, self monitoring on a smaller scale is also given by a voice in your earphones that counts off the miles. Operant conditioning (rewarding the right behaviour – disappointingly there are no punishments for walking) is also used; at the end of your run you get a message of congratulations from Lance Armstrong, Paula Radcliffe or other authoritative athlete (Nike+iPod acting in a social role to persuade). That may sound naff, but from the few times I’ve been persuaded into running by an enthusiastic friend, I would take kind words from anyone – man or machine – during the post-run collapse-on-the-floor period.

The idea of tunnelling (submitting yourself to a difficult process, analogous to someone checking themselves into rehab) is also drawn on; the Nike+ website lets you choose a training program for your running and set goals or undertake challenges. Also, an aspect of surveillance is used; the social network side of the Nike+ website allows you to compare your stats with other runners (and other people to see your stats), or challenge your friends to beat your time.

Do these techniques actually work? I’m going to suggest a simple experiment. I’ve occasionally thought it would be good to get less chronically unfit, but although I’ve been for the odd scamper, it’s never become regular enough behaviour to do any good. Over the weekend I bought a Nike+iPod kit which I’m going to start using. I’m not pretending it’s robustly scientific, but during the next month or so I’ll let you know whether using Nike+iPod helps me make go running more regularly.

If anyone wants to join me (“share the motivation, multiply the performance” as the website says), I’ve started a team on the Nike+ website. Sign up or leave a comment if you want to play (you can still play even if your trainers don’t have the Nike+ cavity with one of these thingssee update below).

Update – Monday 8th December at 14:00
A couple of people have asked about the expensive shoes issue – although Nike would like you to buy these, third parties are offering kits that let you clip your Nike+ sensor to your existing shoes. Although I linked to Runaway above, after a bit more research, the best of the bunch seem to be Marware’s Sportsuit. Buy it from Amazon here.


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