Battle of the Behavioural Change Models




There is no lack of behavioural change models. There really isn't. On my blog in itself I have outlined quite a few. On other popular media Nudge is being thrown at you, whether you want it or not. And nudge will change our lives for the better. Cool. But Nudge is hardly the only theory out there. There is MINDSPACE, there is COM-B, there is EAST and there is also APEASE, which is often used in conjunction with EAST to check if it's really doing a good job. Great. Issue is, with so many models, which one do you use? At the beginning of a presentation, or paper, you will often find yourself defend your choice of model. Why choose one framework over the other? Why work with these assumptions and not those. The issue with many models then becomes: how do you even properly differentiate them? Nudge Let's start with the most famous one: Nudge. What is nudge? Nudging has been defined as "changing the choice architecture." Sounds nice. It'd have to sound nice, because it won a Nobel. Would be odd if it won and still sounded shit. Anyway, you have to edit the environment in such a way that the "right" choice is being promoted. Now there are some debates about who determines what is right and whether this isn't a bit too paternalistic. I am blantantly ignoring that debate. What I would like to mention is that this is a theory that is rather suggestive. Meaning, it suggests that there is a better way of doing things, but nudging in itself draws from other frameworks to define what that specific action would be. And that gets confusing. Let me give you some examples. Example 1: Someone stole my kidneys! There has been a shortage of people donating organs, that they no longer need and that could save others. Now, you can launch many heartfelt campaigns and testimonials about people who have been saved, but this won't solve a key issue: inertia. People just don't go online to opt-in to donating organs. Solution? Change the default: let people opt out. As such, the donation rate in countries that have an opt-out system has sky-rocketed. Example 2: Who hid the pudding?! It seems that all you have to do to make people eat healthier is hide the unhealthy food. Who knew?! I'll be serious for a second. This is a staple example. In a cafeteria, if you put the healthiest foods in the most prominent places they get bought the most. Or at least get bought more than they were initially, as compared to the unhealthier foods that get moved to the back. So you can turn impulsive purchases into something more positive. An apple a day will keep behavioural change design at bay...

Other examples that work great with nudging are gamification, direct feedback, automatic enrollment and social comparison. There are many other mechanisms that can work as well. Nudge is a theory that states that there are many other ways to (re-)design the environment that we make decisions in, without the necessary involvement of law, policy, or economic reform. Its interventions focus on small (and often relatively cheap) changes, that can have big impacts. However, it does not in itself propose exact measures. EAST Let's move from a theory to another framework: EAST. Is this model telling you in which direction to look for behavioural change? No. But it will tell you that the most effective methods of change are Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely. Again, just like Nudge, this framework does not come with a set of pre-defined action plans. It'll draw from other frameworks to do so. The Behavioural Insight Team (BIT) have released a deck of cards. It's an odd version of quartets if you ask me, but they seem very popular in business. Now again, these cards don't have action plans. One of the cards for example would be about Loss Aversion. This is a finding most prominently recognised in Original/Cumulative Prospect Theory. So, this phenomenon can be used to influence behavioural change through EAST, but does not come from the EAST framework itself. And this is an issue with many of these behavioural change models, frameworks, theories, or whatever you'd like to call them. They draw on findings from Behavioural science/economics and psychology, and apply them to behavioural change, but have no direct bearing on the theories they come from. As such, a lot of change models are very muddled. And to distinguish between them is even messier. So for example, applying loss aversion to behavioural change tends to be used as a framing effect, where it's not the gains of an action that get emphasized, but the losses of not doing an action. The cards first give the definition and then do make suggestions as to how loss aversion can be aplied, in a similarly vague fashion as I just did. What category of EAST does loss aversion fall under? Not an f'ing clue mate. But I know how it works. Just like Nudge, a suggestive framework rather than an action plan. MINDSPACE I have written an entire article about MINDSPACE before, and called it "how to manipulate people." Because unlike the theories so far, this framework will tell you exactly what to do. MINDSPACE is a very conveniently chosen acronym, in which each letter stands for a rough outline of an action plan. The M, for example, stands for Messenger. This draws from the finding that there are certain people who we will actively listen to if they tell us to do something. They can be people we trust as authorities, people we identify with, or people who we would like to be like. This is why influencers on social media are very succesful marketing tools. Another example: the I stands for Incentives, or Incentivisation. Just means that you either need to clearly state what the benefits are for doing (or not doing) an action. Or, actually give people some type of benefit that is not directly derived from the action itself. Dirt easy. Again, this framework builds on behavioural insights that have been around for much longer than the actual framework, but it at least tells you how to directly apply them. Rather than telling you "change the choice architecture" it's more like "you might want to hire someone famous to convey your message." However, it has to be mentioned: there is overlap in these frameworks. The D in MINDSPACE stands for Default, which is also often used in both Nudge and EAST. It is also often stated that MINDSPACE is a nudging tool. So nudge is the theory, now complemented by the practical application tool that is MINDSPACE. I am a practical person, I prefer the tool. But, if you don't know the theory that is driving the practical application, you will soon run into issues. COM-B I have done a post on this model as well. I will tell you in advance that I am biased towards this model, because it is not necessarily nudge affiliated and can stand on its own. COM-B is a behavioural change theory, stating that Behaviour is unlikely to change if we do not understand the underlying Capability, Opportunity and Motivation for the behaviour (and the lack of change) in the first place. It works with the commercialised behavioural change wheel, that details what influences Capability, and how those influences can be overcome or changed for the better. If you ask me, COM-B is what should come before any type of intervention, whether that intervention is proposed by EAST or MINDSPACE or god knows what other framework. This is because COM-B delves much deeper into the underlying issues there are when it comes to change. For example, a nudge that employs gamification is turning the stairs around the escalators into a running track. But, a wheelchair user will never be able to participate in this, they are held back by a lack of Physical Capability, which is subcategory of the Capabilities in the change wheel. This may seem intuitively simple, but these types of issues are very often forgotten. As a result, interventions can massively backfire. COM-B, in combination with the Behavioural Change Wheel provides you with the underlying theory for the origin of a behaviour, plus rough but clear enough guidelines and possible ways of changing behaviour. This is in fact a complete model. As such, I do prefer it. So, ladies, gentlemen and everyone in between and beyond: we have a winner!

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