If we want to change human behavior, these factors should be in place: a) physical capability to perform “new” behavior (skills, knowledge and infrastructure), b) motivation (desire to behave in a new way) and c) social approval (new behavior must be “accepted” in a society). To summarize – behavior change is influenced by the relevant physical and social context and human motivation.
Let’s take household waste sorting for example. Many European countries have been fully sorting garbage for a over a decade now, which means that they put household waste into different containers and strictly follow this rule. Depending on whether it is food waste, plastic, aluminum/iron or paper, there are have different recycling rules and must therefore be collected separately. In Denmark, the recycling rate is 46%, and the rest is collected at the landfill and converted into energy (mainly used for heating).
Everyone in Germany knows that the black container is for organic waste, blue for paper, yellow for plastic, white for clear glass, green for colored glass, brown for compost, and red for mixed.
Achieving this result was not easy, as it required a completely different behavior from citizens – along with the growth of awareness, it was necessary to introduce appropriate new actions – starting from cooking, ending with placing placing waste in the appropriate bin. In other words, creating a physical and social context and motivating people. Only after this did the new behavior become a habit.
Behavioral design is a process that studies the journey in detail and what barriers exist in the process to make a program, legislative change, physical infrastructure, or communication campaign best suited to the laws of human behavior and judgment.
Such environmental campaigns, along with all other initiatives or programs, whether in the public sector or in a private organization, be it a product or service development, website or online platform development (user flow), etc., is connected to creating a simple and easy-to-understand “route” for people to take action. In a nutshell, behavior design and insights are applies to crate human centric journeys to a desired actions or behaviors.
Let’s now look at a different situation, which we encounter quite often: a law is adopted and an infrastructure is in place, all the procedures approved and rolled out, trainings and awareness campaign conducted and a public poll shows high desirability, however an uptake is very low or even non-existent. Why it happens?
Think about ourselves:
❏ You are environmentally conscious person and try your best to reduce plastic bag use. For this you decide to use a tote bags in a supermarket, but all the time you approach a shop, it strikes you that you did not take a tote bag along. You end up filling a plastic bags with products;
❏ It is a mere 2 kilometers from home to office, and every day you want to walk this distance, but the story ends with calling a taxi all the time: sometimes you blame the rain and bad weather, or a high heels, sometimes you are not in a mood to take a stroll.
❏ You are on a low carb diet for the third day – you don’t even look at bread and cookies. In a three-hour meeting, someone brings a bowl full of crackers and puts in front of you. Half an hour later you discover that you ate too much for no reason.
That’s what we call an intention action gap – when people’s intention do not match with actions. It happens due to a variety of factors and that’s what Behavioral insights are about: Behavioral economics is a combination of social science, psychology and traditional economic theory and studies the barriers that prevent people from acting. Unlike traditional economic theory, behavioral economics recognizes that humans are irrational and that decisions, actions, and judgments are based on heuristics and so-called Systematic errors (biases).
In the above three situations, the first (when you always forget a tote bag) is due to cognitive overload and a status quo effect – a person’s attention is limited and he/she simply forgets things and tend to follow the old habits; The second situation (lazy for a walk) is procrastination, well known to everyone – postponing it until tomorrow and bringing things to the last minute – a “victim” of a present bias; In the third (diet), a person falls to mindless choosing and demonstrates the lack of self-control that we as humans experience almost all the time.
Behavioral economics studies these systematic errors in human nature and uses these findings (behavior insights) to change products, policy and context in order to nudge people towards healthier and wealthier lives.
Behavioral science and behavior insights is an emerging field and has been successfully applied in public policy, sustainability campaigns, marketing, communication, HR, customer experience management (CX), and many other areas.