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From interventions to change programmes
Why it's not good enough to just talk about interventions
As behavioural scientists we are in the business of changing behaviour – and as such we are pretty good at coming up with ‘interventions’ to do just that. But it seems that less is discussed about the way a number of interventions might fit together into a programme of activity that takes place over time. Is this not a little odd when you look at advertising? In that industry debates rage over channels used, sales impact versus brand building, short versus long term effects: all topics which behavioural science can be somewhat quiet about.
This is an issue that should concern us - as right now it seems that behavioural science can sometimes take a ‘silver bullet’ approach to interventions: get the right one at the right time and that will fix the issue (or at least this is the best that can be done). Two main challenges with that thinking are:
behaviours and the dimensions underpinning them are multi-faceted: we need a range of interventions which tackle different aspects
it assumes that interventions changes behaviour straightway but the reality is that we need to think about both short and longer term influences on behaviour.
Very quickly we can see the importance of planning the design of a behaviour change programme. The risk is that without the framework of a change programme, we can end up with a classic ‘shopping list’ of interventions with no strategic conception of how and why to put them together in a meaningful manner.
In work carried out for the Money and Pensions Service, we identified some broad considerations for the design of behaviour change programmes, some of which are below:
Range of interventions: Has the behaviour got multiple dimensions underpinning it (which is likely) and if so, is this reflected by designing more than one intervention?
Different interventions, same umbrella: If using a range of interventions then do they all operate within a wider umbrella, collectively working towards tangible goals or do they simply co-exist in an uncoordinated manner?
Long term versus short term: Are distinctions made between short term behaviour change (e.g. nudges) and longer term changes (e.g. influencing social identities)?
Style of delivery: Is consideration paid to delivery making sure people feel the message applies to them: such as whether the right language is being used, or if it is coming from someone like them, talking about things that matter to them?
Delivery channel: Whilst behaviour change is often aligned with the use of above-the-line campaigns, these are of course only one possible ingredient of a wider programme. Is enough done to consider the purpose of the interventions and then determine the most effective (and feasible) delivery mechanisms?
Cumulative effects: Can a programme be designed to create a ‘virtuous spiral’ of improved behaviours, with simple behaviour changes in one area starting to ladder into something more significant and holistic?
While all of these seem important if we are to properly address behaviour change, the academic roots of behavioural science can often mean that the focus is on experimentation, one intervention at a time, often with tight controls. And while this is important, it is not sufficient for the complex challenges we need to address.
So perhaps if it is to reflect the complexity of the behaviour change challenges we face, behavioural science needs to look more closely at the advertising industry to generate more discussion about what best practice looks like for the design of change programmes.
The next article will look at the gold standard of testing, the Randomised Control Trial.