Creating a better future
Here at Change2, creating digital content and tools to drive behaviour change resulting in sustainable outcomes is what we are all about. We've been working on it for a while, and through our sister company 2and2 - www.2and2.com.au - we've gained a great deal of experience in using digital channels to run large scale behaviour change and educational programs.
Recently I've been talking with Dr Julie Albright at the University of Southern California about their smart grid demonstration project, and how we could use Change2's learnings to develop digital tools to drive energy efficient (EE) behaviour amongst the general populace. I
When talking about the smart grid, it is often presented as the silver bullet for driving energy efficient behaviour. The thought is, give people the ability to measure their consumption and they'll reduce it. But anyone who has worked more broadly in education and behaviour knows that it is both more complicated and more subtle than that. We have to learn from marketing. Different messages and different engagement techniques are needed for different audiences. Some people respond to graphs and numbers, others respond to values-based messages etc.
While thinking about how smart grid technology can be linked to communications and digital tools to create true behaviour change, I decided to create a list of key motivating factors, with some of my thoughts about how they relate to the digital world. Let me know what you think about them, or if there are any I have missed.
Normative - The strongest motivator for most people is ensuring their behavior is in-line with accepted social norms. If everyone else in the house starts turning off lights when they leave the room, then I will too. If all my friends put CFL’s in their homes, then I will be embarrassed for them to come over and see I still use incandescent globes, and so will upgrade. The underlying aim of any behavior change program should be to redefine what is normal. Make the desired behavior the normal behavior, and every thing else will fall into place.
The closer the peer group the stronger the effect of the normative message. An individual is much more likely to change their behavior because their close friends have adopted a new norm, than because wider society has adopted the new norm. This makes online social networks particularly effective as a platform, as it allows individuals to directly connect and compare with their closest peers which is highly likely to drive change. As any one individual is likely to be a part of any number of social groups, a viral effect takes place where change in one group permeates the next and gradually pushes out into broader society.
Social Connection - Continuing the normative message theme, methods that connect individuals with peers and make them feel a part of something bigger are an effective motivator. Not only does it help create the ‘new norm’ but it also helps make intangible outcomes feel more tangible. For example, reducing my energy consumption at home will not, on its own, have any effect on climate change, however millions of people around the world all reducing consumption will. By connecting me to my peer group I get a sense of being part of something bigger, and by seeing others make similar changes I get the message that I am participating in a bigger movement that can actually achieve something.
Competitive - Some individuals respond strongly to competitive motivational techniques. Competitions introduce social and fun elements. The challenge is to devise competition mechanics that result in sustained behavior change, rather than merely short term changes to get the best competition result. This requires strategic thinking. For example, a competition to see who can reduce their energy consumption the most over one month may result in competitors making short-term sacrifices that they have no intention of adopting over the longer term in order to ‘game’ the result. However, a competition that rewards competitors for adopting specific, realistic and maintainable behaviors over a period of time that is likely to result in those short-term behaviors becoming long-term habits is far more likely to result in a sustained EE outcome. Competitions also provide a channel for normative messaging. If the competition includes an element where you can see what your peers (competitors) are doing to reduce their consumption, this re-enforces a new EE norm.
Financial - The most tangible outcome of EE is monetary savings. The easiest and most effective time for communicating this is at the time of billing. The consumer opens the bill, experiences ‘bill shock’ and then is provided with a relevant recommendation on how she can reduce her next energy bill. Whilst effective, the limitation of this is that the strong message is only received by the person responsible for paying the bill. This will be effective for driving certain changes, such as investing in insulation to reduce heating/cooling bills, but is less likely to effect behavior change amongst other members of the household or organization. If the bill payer is a mom with two teenage children, it is likely that much of the opportunity for achieving EE is in changing the children's behavior, and mom telling the kids she’s unhappy with the size of the power bill and she wants them to take shorter showers and switch appliances off is unlikely to be an effective message. The bill can be a great catalyst for starting change, but what is required for maximum effect is the tools for mom to engage the rest of the family (or the business owner to engage the rest of the workforce) in becoming more EE.
Altruistic - A certain segment of the audience will have environmentally positive values. These are the easiest people to engage and motivate, and delivering a message that clearly links energy efficiency to positive environmental outcomes is the key. It should be recognized that while there are many ‘green consumers’, many are not as well informed as they could be, so it should not be assumed that they are already maximizing opportunities for EE.
It is also possible to increase the proportion of the market place that respond to altruistic motivators. This is done through educating the broader populace and providing the necessary tools and information in order to bring them to an understanding of the impact of energy consumption, in order to motivate ‘middle of the road’ consumers (those that may have a desire to do the right thing but lack sufficient will) to become true green consumers who will make an effort to reduce their impacts. This can also be achieved by finding the right message to drive an altruistic response. Some consumers will never respond, or may even rebel against a message associated to climate change. However, the same consumer may respond to a health message. For example, emissions from coal fired power stations may be linked to respiratory issues, so a family that is not at all ‘environmental’ in their concerns may well respond to a message such as ‘reducing energy consumption and switching to renewables means cleaner air, and cleaner air means less asthma and respiratory illness in children’.
Fun - For most of the population, EE is a dull subject. Therefore to maximize participation, it is necessary to make the act of participating fun in and of itself. There are many ways to do this, and many of the other motivators listed will, if executed correctly, inject an element of fun. Methods include game-like interfaces and fun visualizations, to introducing social and competitive elements, to creating some sort of sense of achievement or tangible reward for each gain made or new improved behavior adopted.
Tangible Rewards - If the desire is to change the behavior of individuals who do not personally pay a power bill, then rewards such as coupons can be a great way to instill a short term financial motivator. For example, offering a book of discount vouchers from local stores as a reward for reducing energy consumption by X% may be a great household motivator, or 50% off on a team lunch at a local restaurant for staff at a company that achieves an EE outcome.
Virtual and Psychic Rewards - Providing a message to the individual that allows him to feel a sense of achievement can be very effective. The rise in facebook games where the main form of reward is amassing virtual possessions is one example of individuals feeling rewarded from something that is merely representative. This technique has already proved very successful in engaging children with online learning activities, and the facebook experience suggests that the technique works for many adults as well.
Positive Peer Recognition - A strong motivator for many people, this may take the form of posting achievements to their facebook wall, leader boards for competitions etc.
Negative Peer Recognition - ‘Name and shame’ can be an effective but risky tactic. I would be interested in testing whether a publicly visible negative feedback motivates or results in disengagement. For example, posting a message on a participants facebook wall, ‘Hey, your energy consumption is really high in the mornings...maybe you should shorten those showers’. Would that motivate you, or just p** you off?
Gain vs Loss - Humans experience stronger feelings around loss than gain. For example, for most people the negative feelings around losing a hundred dollar bill are stronger than the positive feelings from finding one. This can inform the tone of messaging. ‘Do you know you wasted $120 in the last 3 months by setting your thermostat so high? You’d better turn it down X degrees so you don’t waste so much money in the future’ may be more effective than ‘Do you know that by dropping your thermostat by X degrees you can save $120 a quarter?’.
Nudge Theory - Somewhat over-hyped, put simply this is the idea that you can get more participation by requiring someone to opt-out rather than asking them to opt-in. This may be useful when presenting a consumer with a list of suggested actions to lower their energy usage. Rather than giving the user a list and asking them to select some actions to commit to, it may be more effective to have some key selections already checked as ‘suggestions’ that have to be un-checked. There are arguments against this (actively selecting a commitment means a higher level of engagement). This has also been promoted as a method of getting more consumers to switch to Green Power. A utility could communicate to its customers that as of July 1 next year, all customers are being upgraded to 10% Green Power, unless they call a toll free number to opt-out. The idea sounds good, but wouldn't you risk a consumer backlash?
Promotion Focus vs Prevention Focus - Promotion-focus is focusing on hope and accomplishments (gains). Prevention-focus is focusing on safety and responsibility (non-loses). Different people respond to different foci. Communications strategies designed to deliver behavior change often deal with this by framing message in both promotion- and prevention-focused ways. One of the advantages of digital communications is the ability to profile and customize messaging. It may be possible to build interfaces that help to identify whether individuals respond to ‘promotion’ or ‘prevention’ and frame messages appropriately.
In my next blog I'll look at how we can take some of these motivators and turn them into action. In the meantime, I'd like to know what you think about the above...what have I left out?
Add a Comment