This week I went to the ANZSOG Behaviour change in public policy masterclass led by BehaviourWorks.  The two-day workshop aimed to help participants to use tools that can increase the chances of behaviour change in a target audience.

The course focused on methods that could be scaled for projects of different sizes and with different budgets and was led by Associate Professor Liam SmithMark Boulet. & Dr Stefan Kaufman.

Day one focused a bit on the theory and a lot on methods, using some interesting case studies as examples of interventions that have been effective. Some of the topics we covered were:

  • Influencing human behaviour
  • The BWA method for designing behaviour change programs
  • What is behaviour and what influences it?
  • Applying behavioural insights to a real problem
  • General models of behaviour change
  • Identifying and defining behaviours to address a problem

Some very rich content and a great refresher.

Our stakeholder systems map
Our stakeholder systems map

Day two started with a focus on Ethics by Liam. This was a very interesting conversation that threatened to split the room. We looked at the ethical issues involved in changing behaviour and looked at a couple of polarising examples. The discussion was very lively and there was not an agreed position at the end. We also looked at ways our behaviour is already manipulated – from shopping centres, to social media and advertising.

The next session focused on prioritising behaviours and we focused on our group topic. Our group’s subject was “23% of people of 65 are lonely”. What I found really interesting about this topic is how readily public servants ‘read’ a situation and make a judgement. The first comments were about nursing homes, hospitals and aged care which was quite interesting. At this point I could not resist pointing out that some of our colleagues in the office at at this age and that some of us are closer to 65 than 35 so thought needs to go into actually ‘looking’ at the demographic. I can certainly see an important connection to user centred design and the potential to use participatory design to create better interventions, which is great for my HDR research project. When I was in Norway, I learnt that Elders are in two groups – Young Seniors and Elders. I think this is much more representative of our community – acknowledging that are very active and mobile seniors.

If I was to make a criticism of this workshop, I would say that BWA need to find a more up-to-date example to demonstrate ‘norming’ behaviour. Yes – five years ago the use of neighbourhood comparisons on energy bills did motivate people to save energy. But there was also a flip-side. Some low energy users saw the higher consumption of their neighbours and increased their energy use as a response. But, what I think this example demonstrates is that we can’t make assumptions that an intervention might work – no matter how perfect it might seem.

Image from workshop slides BWA
Image from workshop slides BWA – looking at Bias

What was brilliant was the expertise in the room – a lot of the participants are experts in their fields and as a result, there was a very rich conversation.

Bottom line is: humans are fickle creatures 🙂

Would definitely recommend this masterclass as a refresher for people already working with Behavioural Insights, not so much for newbies.

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