Nearly all of our campaign and communication activities will have an aspect of behaviour change as their outcome. By applying behaviourial theory, we can design more effective communications to influence how people act for the public good. There are many socially beneficial behaviours that we seek to promote, including changes that help individuals from day-to-day (e.g. healthy eating), saving lives (e.g. road safety) or helping the effective running of government (e.g. tax self-assessment).
Using communications to encourage changes in behaviour can also help save money, such as through better compliance with the tax system. The UK Government’s approach is to use a mix of awareness raising, persuasion, practical help and behavioural theory, to demonstrate why changes in behaviour are important and to make these changes easy for the public to adopt. Whilst human behaviour is a very complex, this guide sets out how you can apply key ideas from social psychology and economics in your communications strategies.
More than just information
Historically, much government communication has focused on appealing to a rational viewpoint, informing and explaining choices to citizens. It assumes that logical persuasion alone will result in the right outcomes. But our work is about more than just information; we also have a role to influence behaviour for the public good, using proven methods that go with the grain of human nature. Broadly speaking, most government communications seek to encourage or enable people to act in one of the following ways:
- to start or adopt a new behaviour
- to stop doing something damaging
- to prevent the adoption of a negative or harmful behaviour
- to change or modify an existing behaviour.
In each case, the aim is to encourage people to behave in a certain way. Insights from social psychological theory (how other people’s presence, especially within a group, can influence our intentions, attitudes, motivations and activity) and behavioural economics (which demonstrates how we don’t always act in rational ways and are often governed by unconscious automatic responses) provide us with a deeper understanding of human behaviour.
A framework for behaviour change
The framework devised by the UK Government’s Behavioural Insights Team is the right starting point for people thinking about behaviour change. This provides an easy to use checklist based around four key principles known as EAST – making it Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely. Each element of the framework is designed around well established behavioural theory principles.
You can find out more about EAST, as well as see case studies of campaigns which have used the framework – and behaviour change theory – to affect real change in their target audiences on the Behavioural Insights Team site.