Motivating Action & Change for the Environment
To reduce the threats of habitat loss, climate change, and overexploitation of natural resources on biodiversity, we urgently need global mobilization around adopting more sustainable behaviors.
Yet, our traditional communication approaches of education and awareness, doom and gloom, or shame and guilt won’t work to achieve our sustainability goals.
It’s time to adopt new outreach approaches that engage, empower, and motivate audiences to change their behaviors in a way that benefits their future, their health, and the planet.
My approach to behavior change
I take an interdisciplinary approach to designing behavior change strategies to have the greatest flexibility in identifying solutions that meet the contextual needs of a project.
Strategies I’ve developed pull from the fields of commercial advertising, social marketing, psychology, and the behavioral sciences. Theories and tactics are filtered to ensure they’re relevant for community-based conservation programs.
While all approaches should be tailored to reflect the local context of the site and community, I have identified several key ingredients that increase a project’s chance of achieving success.
These tenets form the backbone of my approach to behavior change.
Focus on what we want people to do
to guide our audience towards more sustainable choices. Program teams should have a clear picture for how individuals can successfully transition from the current behavior towards a more sustainable option.
Mapping out the audience’s behavior journey helps teams identify when barriers are likely to surface, where additional support may be needed, and when to focus on a time-bound action versus a long-term change.
This level of detail also helps teams set realistic expectations for the rate in which audiences may adopt new behaviors.
Segment and prioritize target audiences
to focus resources on those who “must change” or those who are “most likely to change” so we have the greatest chance of making an impact.
Identifying a priority audience that is realistic in scope and scale allows teams to acquire an in-depth understanding of their barriers, drivers, influencers, and support needs.
This, in turn, helps teams craft compelling messages that will resonate with its intended audience.
Ensure the desired behavior is realistic for the audience to adopt.
While we would love to have communities stop hunting, consumption, and fishing practices for the benefit of species protection, the reality is that many people’s livelihoods and basic needs are intertwined with these behaviors.
For these reasons, it’s imperative that behavior change “asks” do not require communities to make unrealistic sacrifices.
Teams can find this balance by presenting alternative behaviors that provide equal or greater access to income and food sources.
Or, by setting more realistic goals of adopting sustainable methods of current practices, as opposed to shifting practices to something entirely new.
Include a mix of motivators throughout the behavior change journey.
Throughout the process of adopting a new behavior, audiences will experience a variety of difficulties, regressions, and emotions.
One type of motivator – whether it be tangible or intrinsic – will not be enough to sustain the efforts and resilience of the audience.
By identifying when deterrents may surface during the audience’s behavior journey, project teams can select a mix of external and internal motivators to start, sustain, and expand progress.
Go for it. Learn from it. Then, try it again.
There is no formula for behavior change and applying these communication approaches is still relatively new in the field. Therefore, we won’t have all the answers or data we would ideally like before getting started.
By relying on motivator options pulled from my force-field analysis, project teams can confidently move forward with initial messages to begin moving the needle on action and change.
As new insights become available, teams can iterate upon existing materials to explore different approaches.
I believe all conservation practitioners are capable of engaging more effectively with target audiences to achieve these goals, even if they do not have a background in communications, marketing, or community outreach.
That’s why I focus on capacity building: providing useful insights and tools to program teams so they can tailor strategies for local contexts, pivot when new strategies are needed, and use them repeatedly in future projects.
Success is when teams have developed to the point where I’m no longer needed on a regular basis.