Bringing about lasting behavioral change

The task of bringing about lasting behavioral change is difficult, but not impossible. At a recent EBP innovation “boostcamp” centering on the subject of behavioral change, our interdisciplinary team developed a standard procedure that can be applied to various areas.

“The direct involvement of the target groups enables us to develop tailormade solutions.”

Whether the goal is carbon neutrality or sustainable approaches to mobility and the use of energy, achieving the goal will require lasting changes in human behavior. And when it comes to changing their behavior, humans tend to be reluctant. Indeed, communications campaigns often show that an improved awareness of the relevant issues is not enough to generate real behavior change. So what does it take to elicit significant and lasting behavioral change in a given target group? At a recent “boostcamp”, our interdisciplinary team spent four days working out an evidence-based procedure that draws from knowledge acquired in the areas of social psychology, human-centered design, and communications consulting.

Das Projektteam erarbeitet am Flipchart zusammen das Vorgehen

“Application: reducing light pollution in Bern”

We further developed our procedure by applying it to a specific urban problem. The city of Bern would like to reduce its light pollution as a means of protecting the natural environment, improving sleeping conditions and night-time security for residents, and lowering energy consumption. But whose behavior are we hoping to change? And how can we convince them to change?

Mitarbeiterin arbeitet konzentriert an der Lösung

Step 1: Working together with our client, we applied the problem-statement method drawn from human-centered design to create a common understanding of the problem. We then ascertained the primary target groups, including local business operators and the owners of large or multiple properties.

Step 2: With the help of semi-structured interviews with target-group representatives, we arrived at a clearer understanding of their needs, goals, attitudes, and awareness levels.  

“The success of the implemented measures is assessed using appropriate indicators.”

Step 3: How high is the behavioral-change barrier for the target groups? What benefits might be in it for them? We classified the results of the interviews using a psychological model (Schultz, 2014) that assesses behaviors in terms of barriers and benefits.

Step 4: Based on our classification and the findings from our interviews, we derived measures that would enable behavioral changes. Using the design-studio method, we then worked out specific actions that could be taken by the city of Bern.

Step 5: We also defined indicators by which to gauge the success of any implemented measures. We thereby have at our disposal an evaluation set with which to adapt the measures depending on the course of the project.

Broad area of application, greater utility

We standardized the procedure in a manner that permits its application to a wide range of cases. Our clients benefit from: gaining a better understanding of their target groups; scientifically sound measures tailormade to meet the needs of target groups; and continuous monitoring of effectiveness. “I’m really thrilled at what you were able to achieve in such a short time,” said Eva Krähenbühl of the Bern Environmental Protection Agency, in her response to our innovation project. The EBP team had invited her to be involved with the project from the perspective of a potential client.

Project team

Rebekka Holzer

Cornelia Büttner

Nicola Winzer

Laurence Duc