It’s 2020. The world is in the grips of a global pandemic from COVID-19 and I have spent the last four months sitting in endless webinars and meetings whereupon people talk about how they will ‘make people do behaviour change.’
Every single time, I push back and say, “How exactly will you do that / this making people DO behaviour change?’
Thee is inevitably a shrug or an irritated look followed by some statement of how they will tell people to wash their hands, stay physically distant, wear a mask. And well, that will be it. Voila - problem solved.
But I think about Lori who isn’t able to wash her hands with the frequency that we were telling her to wash her hands because she didn’t have money to buy soap. I think about Tomas who can’t wash his hands at all because he had no access to clean water. I think about Sindiosa who has access to water but only enough to cook her family’s dinner each night and rinse the dishes - nothing left over for handwashing. I think about Chansana who believes that the water has spirits in it so it must be blessed each time he fetches it and he must pay the monk for each blessing - he can’t afford to bless that much water for so much handwashing. I think about Alex who has water, soap and doesn’t know anything about water spirits but he just kinda forgets to wash his hands every single time that he should wash his hands.
We can see that people are complex and have many obstacles and motivations and misconceptions and limitations and previously held habits, all of which need to be considered when we ‘tell people to do behaviour change’. We know that just telling them to do something is not how people work, nor how they change their behaviors or even how they change their mind. People don’t simply pay heed to what people tell them to do; they don’t stop what they are doing and have been doing for days, weeks, even years simply because a guy with megaphone just told them to. We know that people don’t even change their behaviours when they know that what they are doing will hurt their health or even kill them or kill a loved one - it is just the way the human brain works - these deeply-ingrained beliefs, norms, attitudes and behaviours are etched into our brain, these neural pathways literally have carved a path in our mushy brains where we embed a habit, belief, behaviour and well, it’s hard to erase something that deeply ingrained. But it is possible; it is possible when we can identify what will motivate a person or a group of people to change and use that information to carve new and more positive pathways. It is possible when we identify the knowledge that is needed or how to correct misinformation that is lodged in that same brain. It is possible when we assess the environment and evaluate what is blocking a person’s ability to succeed and who or what can help a person progress along the path towards their goal. It is possible when we understand a person’s or a group’s social norms and beliefs, assess their understanding of how the behaviour impacts their life and their access to healthier options. And it is not even difficult - but it takes times; it takes some basic training and practice; and it takes listening to the people you are aiming to impact.
When I tell the megaphone-wielding health workers and community health groups this, they shake their heads at me with irritation or maybe confusion. They tell me that this is not accurate, that this takes more time than they have, that people are not smart enough to understand anything other than simple messages, that people will just do what they tell them to because - look they are wearing vests from the United Nations or the Red Cross and this is serious business.
Ahh, but this is the only way, I tell them. They must think beyond these knowledge-based tactics they are limited to, things like posters and megaphones and t-shirts and radio spots and talking AT people. They must learn about how behaviour change works and use that skill and understanding to apply behavour change techniques to actually influence behaviour. It is the only way to help the Loris and the Tomases and the Sindiosas and the Chansanas and the Alexes to actually adopt a new or a better behaviour.
Nadulpan was conceived and developed by behaviour change experts, researchers, advocates and practitioners who have put in time, energy, money and heart into ensuring that their work is informed through a behaviour change lens. Nadulpan is a treasure trove of behaviour change materials, content, tools, games, courses and applications to allow users to become well-versed in behaviour change theory and interventions and apply them at the personal level, the household level, the community level or at the organisational level. Nadulpan aims to grow through community spaces to allow members to discuss amongst themselves and with experts about their own behaviour change work, to share lessons learned and strategise together to ensure an evidence-based approach. At Nadulpan, we include behaviour change experts and the latest research written at accessible levels to allow members to stay current to understand how to apply this research. Nadulpan is currently developing an interactive behaviour change algorithm where users respond to a series of prompts about a local problem behaviour and finally arrive at an evidence-based plan of action to be tested and applied - where behaviour change is more likely to work. There is so much that can be done, so join us - you can change the world.