Event Report: “The Value of Values in Behaviour Change”

Event Report: The Value of Values in Behaviour Change by Professor Erik Bichard, (Professor of Regeneration and Sustainable Development) Salford University, 29 Oct 2012

Thank goodness for intelligent seminars such as this one! Prof. Bichard is one of the rare academics I have heard so far, who not only questions and researches the underlying reasons for inaction, but also looks at applying his knowledge and concepts in the real world himself. About 15 people attended the seminar split in two parts; first a summary of research to explain attitudes and tactics to modify them, followed by a quick workshop where we were challenged to develop a plan that would be appealing and engaging to the majority.

Professor Bichard divided his presentation into themes:

  • First he explained clearly that although the value-action gap has multiple causes, reaction and actions are down to five questions: Is there a problem? Do I care? Do I know what to do about it? Which in turn lead to: Will the solution work? And most importantly: What will my peers think of my behaviour? Levels of personal engagement are linked directly to social norm and our attitudes are influenced by the image we want to project to our peers – this is the cycle we need to influence to develop new sets of behaviour.
  • He continued with a challenge to segmentation models as we know them (Mosaic and ACORN), which are biased towards economics and demographics and not representative of people’s values. When discussing environmental “types” a more useful distinction can be made according to levels of engagement: Pioneers ( about 21% of people) who are self-driven, Prospectors ( 44%) who are looking at outside influence but mostly self-centered, and finally Settlers, (35%) who look at authority, history and safety. Obviously, you may find yourself to be a little bit of all of these… especially because our sets of values change according to what we are talking about.
  • Framing (aka the context of your message) has an underestimated impact on the level of engagement from the public. Apocalyptic scenarios famously switch people off – hence lack of action ( besides we have an optimism bias which stops us from action regarding of facts laid bare in front of us) but if you find the right emotional framing that works, behaviour changes more readily.

So what can we do?
Forget rational decisions thinking: information alone does not have the impact we think it should and we know it. Remember the five questions at the beginning: our attitude is a mix of emotions, thinking and willingness to act – and our actions must be effective as well as acceptable to our peers; therefore changing the framework for decisions and thinking has a better chance of success than a series of lectures or carrot and stick strategies.

Mixing all these at the same time increases you chance of success:

  • Use the power of social norm (and pressure): if you can see that recycling is what people do around here, you do not want to stand out as the odd one out. Also, if you make a public pledge in front of witnesses, or if your achievements are made public, you are more likely to do what you said and keep going.
  • Work with what people value and relate behaviour to a preservation of their values – this is very useful with Settlers- if they want things to remain good, it is in their interest to act accordingly in order to keep things going.
  • Use incentives, visible and worthy rewards (which benefit the group or community you belong to) and positive re-enforcement- this will also have the added benefit to spread the word to a wider audience as people are likely to talk about their achievements too.

So there are better ways to do things but this is not to say that 100% of the population will be won over by the end of the year. Let’s face it, if you are faced with a hard-wired climate change denier addicted to economic growth and their SUV collection, it may be difficult to find some common ground to work from – however now is the time to re-think our message to make it relevant to an increasing majority, stop preaching the converted and offer an entry point to other members of our community by adopting a discourse that fits with their own values.

Laurence Menhinick

Some studies, people and research mentioned during the talk:
• Ajzen and Fishbien’s theory of reasoned action (1980)
• R. Ciadini’s 6 principles of influence (video)
• Manchester is my Planet partnership programme
• Rosemary Randall Carbon Conversations and video and blog here
• Renée Lertzman the Myth of Apathy
• Chris Rose Campaign Strategy

About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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