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Understanding culture is the first step towards behaviour change

by | Dec 13, 2022 | Being IMPOWER, Local government transformation | 0 comments

“We do not design solutions for people, we design them with them”

Nudgestock 2022, the world’s biggest festival of behavioural science, was an event filled with lots of exciting speakers who looked to unpick who people are and the drivers, and barriers, of human behaviour. Behaviour change expert Amal Haouet’s session with the gripping title, “Saving lives from land mines using behavioural science” was a discussion that particularly caught my attention.

Amal described how she and a team of behaviour change experts have been applying behavioural science to improve risk education, to prevent death and injury from landmines and explosive remnants of war, particularly in Mali, Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Amal explained how behavioural science is being used in conflict areas to encourage people to adopt lifesaving behaviours.

To give one example, Amal explained that in Mali they found that taking risks is perceived to be heroic and that reputation is very socially rewarding. After working with local groups, Amal’s team recommended that work is done to redefine who ‘true heroes’ are; redefining them as those who are protecting others by using positive behaviour.

Amal ended her session with emphasising the importance of applying a cultural lens in order to come up with solutions, stressing “we do not design solutions for people, we design them with them”.

Whilst the topic, “saving lives from land mines” had initially seemed worlds away from IMPOWER’s work with UK public services, this line really stuck with me and resonated with the work that IMPOWER does. Much of Amal’s team’s work had focused on identifying what positive behaviour looks like, understanding why people do not adopt the behaviours, drivers and barriers of risky behaviour, and working with local groups to think about solutions.

At IMPOWER, two of the key principles of EDGEWORK® are ‘delivering at the frontline’ and ‘applied behavioural science’. Building a picture of a council’s culture and carrying out engagement with frontline staff to understand behaviours are values at the heart of our behaviour change work. It is only by understanding culture that you can then start to co-design behaviour change solutions with people to achieve better outcomes.

When I reflect on my recent project, an adult social care diagnostic project, it’s clear that these values have been a thread throughout our key project activities.

Understanding culture – There was a real value in sitting with, and observing, front door teams to understand the types of conversations being had when individuals first contact the council, how practitioners use tools and resources, and what day-to-day challenges practitioners are facing. Practitioners are the experts, and it is so important to learn from them and understand the unique context and culture they are working in. At IMPOWER we use a behavioural science tool called MINDSPACE as a lens when observing the conversations being had at the front door, to think about the cues that are having a strong influence on behaviour.

Identifying the barriers and drivers behind practitioner behaviour – Facilitating case review workshops with small groups of practitioners was an opportunity to talk through real-life examples of individual cases, reflecting on whether anything could have been done differently or earlier to improve outcomes for individuals receiving adult social care support. We discussed whether a strengths-based approach (focusing on strengths, assets, and independence) is evident in practitioner practice. The workshops provided frontline staff the space to reflect and was an opportunity to discuss the systematic or structural barriers that may be preventing a strengths-based approach from being applied.

Amal’s discussion and the talks given by many other wonderful people across the Nudgestock event were inspiring, and a real reminder of the positive effect behaviour change can have. My main takeaway from Amal’s talk was: the key starting point for any behaviour change work is first understanding the culture of the organisation that you are working with and drivers of behaviour.

I encourage you to watch Amal’s session here to hear more about the interventions and messages her team developed, and the impact their work has had.

And much like Amal’s approach, co-production is key to our impact with clients; we do not design solutions for people, we design them with them. To find out more about how IMPOWER uses applied behavioural science and strengths-based approaches to deliver impact in public services, visit our website.