You can’t change my behaviour (and it’s rude to try)

Behaviour change should be about promoting community around good behaviour that already exists. Pictured: The Garage Sale Trail campaign.
Behaviour change should be about promoting community around good behaviour that already exists. Pictured: The Garage Sale Trail campaign.

If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that behaviour change is a concept that needs to change.

Everyone’s talking behaviour change. And for good reason… changing the world means needing people to change how they do things.

The problem is, that’s all fine and well when you’re the one doing the changing, but what if you’re the changee?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my behaviour changed. I’m quite happy with it like it is, thank you very much. What’s more, if you try to change my behaviour, I might just find that offensive, and then I won’t change – just to prove a point. So, I dig in my heels, no one changes and the problem remains.

So what’s the answer? Let’s start with a little theory. The chart below is adapted from Integral Theory by Ken Wilbur.

behaviour-change

It says that you need a combination of internal, external, individual and collective factors to make change happen.

It’s simple, and it works.

Let’s take bike riding as an example. Suppose you ask four people, “What will it take to get more people to ride their bike to work?”

Person one says, “Easy. Tell them they will get fit, lose weight and get to work faster.”

bike-adAnd you end up with something like the this. Classic advertising. Find the benefit – make an ad.

It seeks to change my individual, internal perception of cycling by giving me a reason to do it.

Person two says, “Nah. I already know that. The problem is, I haven’t ridden a bike in years. Why don’t you put some bikes in a park encourage people to ride across instead of walking.

“Then collect the bikes on the other side and say, ‘See, it’s just like riding a bike… Why don’t you try riding to work tomorrow?’”

This is classic product demonstration. It changes the external factors stopping me riding a bike by showing me how to do it.

Person three says, “No no no. That’s all fine. I can already ride a bike. The problem is I feel like a twit if I’m the only person riding. What you need to do is create group rides so I can feel like I’m not the only one doing it, and other people see us and join in.” Which is where you get ideas like the Tweed Ride, night rides and, of course, nudie rides.

This is fashion and recommendation. It changes my internal perception of how cycling is accepted – and therefore how I’ll be accepted by showing me others doing it.

Finally, person four says, “You’re all crazy. Even if you do all those things, I’m not riding a bike until the infrastructure is in place to make it easy and safe. Bike lanes, bike share and so on.”

This is a collective need for real, external infrastructure that makes it easy to ride a bike.

So, who is right? Well, wisdom would say everyone. And that would be a good theory of behaviour change.

But in many cases there’s a better way.

What if creating change in the world was not about changing people’s behaviour, but about creating community around good behaviours that already exist, by making them easy, fund and social?

The Garage Sale Trail is a campaign to help stop waste – but it never talks about waste. Instead it’s all about fun, community and finding the treasure in other people’s trash. It creates the same behaviour change as the behaviour change model above – but with half the effort.

Watch the video to find out how it’s done!

You Can’t Change My Behaviour (and it’s rude to try) from Republic of Everyone on Vimeo.

Ben Peacock is founder of sustainability strategy and communications agency Republic of Everyone and cofounder of the Garage Sale Trail.

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