When it comes to behaviour change, we know what success—and, let's face it, failure—looks like. Our successful work has seen countless Queenslanders quit smoking, influenced the behaviours of people experiencing and perpetrating domestic and family violence, shaped attitudes towards the COVID-19 vaccination debate and encouraged safer transport and travel practice.
The biggest thing we've learned from behaviour change campaigns is you're in it for the long haul. People don't change their behaviour overnight—especially behaviour around their big life moments. It happens incrementally and although the process is long, it's a rewarding one.
A good long-term behaviour change campaign is broken down into steps, focusing on the giant leap of that moment in time.
We have been running Medical Mums as an annual campaign for Brisbane North PHN since 2016. Each year, the focus has shifted slightly, but the core behaviour change message has remained steadfast.
What began with live-action interviews of GP mums and an Indigenous health nurse grew to include a Medical Dad in the third year, and turned into a refreshingly different illustration with a diverse cast of characters in the fourth, tackling myths and fear tactics head-on. In 2020, our messaging cut through COVID-19 clutter and encouraged parents to continue their children's vaccination schedules in spite of hesitancy and uncertainty around the COVID-19 vaccine.
Each year moved the conversation along a little further, warranting a slightly different approach each time.
With behaviour change campaigns, it's not our job to move whole populations from 0 to 100. It’s to elicit in people the desire to change sustainably, so they can lead themselves along the stages of change at their own pace.
We use nudge and switch models for our behaviour change campaigns.
First articulated by Nobel Prize-winning behavioural economist Richard Thaler, a nudge is an environmental modification that encourages people to make good decisions—like the reminder your dentist sends you to schedule a dental check-up. Nudges exponentially increase the likelihood of people making the behaviour change in that instance, but it means they rely on your reminders for any ongoing change.
Switches are simple activities or thought-changers that encourage people to keep going with their determination to change, allowing them to take responsibility for their behaviours.
Metrics are a vital element of a behaviour change campaign—you have to measure the influence you've had on behaviour to know if your campaign is working. It's just as important to track your metrics before you start the campaign as it is to track them after it's complete.
Your metrics will depend greatly on the behaviour itself (i.e. if you want people to stop flushing junk down the toilet, measure how often toilets get clogged in the community). If you're stuck, these are some handy general measurements:
No matter what product you sell, service you deliver or behaviour you change, your audience is always going to be human beings, which means the result will never be perfection.
Perfect, complete and consistent change is rarely achievable. If that's your goal, behaviour change campaigns aren't going to feel rewarding at all. But every step in the right direction is a win, so keep your goals big but realistic, and give people credit for the things they do achieve, instead of focusing on where they fall short. Champion every change, no matter how small.
Champion your audience through each small step of the behaviour change process and celebrate your wins, big and small. Learn to appreciate every bit of influence you have over helping people make better choices, and you'll find behaviour change campaigns are the most rewarding of all.