Archive for September, 2010

Small is beautiful? Small interventions and the Big Society

September 30, 2010

Andreas Whittam Smith writes today in the Independent about the nature of future government interventions in local communities and how they contribute to the Big Society agenda.  His article is subtitled with the line:

“Small interventions in local communities can have a major impact through contagion. This is pioneering work. There is nothing to go on. It has not been done before”.

Whittam Smith also talks about that new approach in these terms:

“it directs us not to what markets can provide, or what the state can do but to what we as individuals, as citizens, can contribute. This is very new.”

In TCC we have been exploring these issues through our work with local government and health services in local communities over the past three years. The approach that Whittam Smith describes is very much in line with what we have said here and here based on our experience of those communities, so his intervention on the subject is very welcome.

The other interesting point he makes is how one cannot just talk the talk on such issues. Organisational behaviour has to match noble words. He writes:

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said a “psychological contract” between police and the public over tackling street yobbery was broken. Officers sitting behind desks often leave members of the public to face petty thuggery alone. He said “police must back up ordinary citizens so they do not feel afraid to challenge nuisance behaviour”.

As we have previously reported on community cohesion work in Barking and Dagenham, one part of the process was for the Council to speak in the same values as the community it represented in order for it to engage with people’s needs and emotions. The other part was for its actions and day to day behaviour to directly reflect those stated values. It’s Eyesore Gardens campaign and support for inclusive St George’s Day Street Parties were good examples of a Council re-establishing a psychological contract with those holding certain values.

It’s therefore very gratifying to read from someone as esteemed as former Independent Editor Andreas Whittam Smith that our day to day activity is a part of some  “pioneering work“.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for the Campaign Company

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Financial incentives in Public Health – how effective are they?

September 29, 2010

The BBC is reporting that NICE, the advisory body for the health service, is holding a public consultation over whether the NHS in England and Wales should offer financial incentives to encourage healthier lifestyles. This follows an expression of support for the idea from its own citizen’s council.

Will this work? So far the evidence here and here seems to indicate that financial incentives might have a short-term impact, but not necessarily a long-term one. There are also public policy challenges with it. Some members of the public may resent some people being paid for to stop previous unhealthy behaviour, when they didn’t need to themselves. There is also an issue as to whether, with the current public finances, it will be possible to sustain the incentive due to potentially large costs or what then might the impact be on public health if the incentive is then withdrawn?

Dan Pink has written in his book Drive about how in the longer-term intrinsic (non-financial rewards) motivation may prove more effective than extrinsic (payments) motivation. But how do we then determine when best to apply this? And are they the only two types of motivator? As the start of Dan Pink’s RSA lecture shows, he can easily identify at least three types! Are there a range of non-financial incentives that could be applied instead that address intrinsic, extrinsic and security/sustenance motivations?

Values based segmentation is built on the concept of people satisfying various needs, thus it is all about motivation, which is why TCC uses it in behaviour change campaigns. What it enables one to do is directly identify the things that are more likely to motivate people to act. These will vary depending on the values people hold. It also then enables one to communicate that in the right language to have far more chance of engaging with those people in a longer-term relationship.

Too often public health campaign messages are expressed in just the predominantly intrinsic values of the delivery organisation and messages to people who hold differing values are not heard by them. Effective segmentation therefore can make a difference.

In the case of public health incentives, perhaps the aim should be to avoid providing only a rational Homo Economicus approach of “exchange” – in this case money for good behaviour – and ensure one identifies a mix of “motivators” that take account of a range of values and more emotional drivers to change behaviour.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for The Campaign Company.

Understanding strong and weak ties within social networks

September 28, 2010

I’ve just read an interesting article by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker regarding the depth of connection within social networks. Apart from some interesting comments on the differences between networks and hierarchies and the nature of Iran’s Twitter uprising; what is more widely interesting is the differentiation between the role of “strong ties” (eg your close friends) and “weak ties” (eg your more general acquaintances) in motivating any change whether that is behavioural or, primarily in the case of the article, political.

Generally it is argued by those exploring the field of social capital, that building weak ties – described in the concepts of bridging and linking social capital – is a good thing to encourage, especially within local communities that lack them. As the article states:

“There is strength in weak ties, as the sociologist Mark Granovetter has observed. Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvellous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism”

The article also explains, that weak ties of wider “social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires”. In other words they lower the entry costs to participation and this is very much a good thing.

However when it comes to a deeper motivation for forms of commitment and activism and sustaining the course of an activity, the article argues it is strong ties and bonding social capital that counts. Describing research into those who stayed in or dropped out of the 1960’s Freedom Summer campaign to end segregation in the Deep South of the United States, the article reports that:

The Stanford sociologist Doug McAdam compared the Freedom Summer dropouts with the participants who stayed, and discovered that the key difference wasn’t, as might be expected, ideological fervor. “All of the applicants—participants and withdrawals alike—emerge as highly committed, articulate supporters of the goals and values of the summer program,” he concluded. What mattered more was an applicant’s degree of personal connection to the civil-rights movement. All the volunteers were required to provide a list of personal contacts—the people they wanted kept apprised of their activities—and participants were far more likely than dropouts to have close friends who were also going to Mississippi. High-risk activism, McAdam concluded, is a “strong-tie” phenomenon.

From the point of view of pro-social behavioural change, what these studies may be important in telling us, is that there may be a range of actions one needs to take as part of any intervention. This might firstly start from building wider social networks so as to increase initial local participation on the assumption that will then indirectly lead to the development of a wider range of strong ties that create stronger motivation within any target group to sustain activity. Often strong ties are seen in a negative light and weak ties are said to be what less-well off communities need. The reality is that we probably need both developed at different stages of an intervention. This insight might prove important to longer-term interventions in the public health field or for building the Big Society.

As recent RSA research into social networks has shown, it is clear that we are all still developing our understanding  as to how they work. The RSA research looked into distribution of networks within communities, focusing on “weak ties”, but did not at this stage explore the values that are generated or reinforced within any given network or the narratives that are expressed within the community as a result. Many of these may be quite pessimistic or negative narratives, that may, for example, reinforce negative behavioural outcomes in a community. We are currently doing work into how values and narratives develop within social networks and will report further on our findings.

As the New Yorker article illustrates, understanding the varying roles of strong and weak ties within local social networks is something that needs to be more clearly understood too.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer in the The Campaign Company

Nudges and the Big Society?

September 17, 2010

The Government was this week reported as setting up a more powerful Nudge Team which builds on the work of the Cabinet Office Behavioural Insight Team. This is of course broadly welcome. However the danger to avoid is seeing the behavioural economics of Nudges as the magic bullet to solve all the intractable behavioural challenges that society faces.

Mark Earls, the author of the book Herd, has written that Nudging is not enough on its own. He argues that, “the big weakness of most of these BE-inspired models fall far short of aspirational accuracy because they miss the important fact that all human life is lived in company (real or imagined) of others – as Freud observed, we can never escape the Other”.

On this blog, Professor Jeff French and Charlie Mansell have also further explained that Nudging needs to be seen in the context of a wider range of interventions that are available.

The additional point I would make at this stage, is that a Nudge approach where, as Charlie states, “we are spared the cognitive effort of thinking too hard about the behaviour in question”, may actually go against the levels of increased thoughtful commitment required from communities to build the Big Society; whilst recognising, as we do, that those communities may respond to the Big Society in different ways due to a different mix of values. In other words, is one part of the Cabinet Office joining up government enough with another part of the Department over programmes around Nudges and the Big Society to ensure they complement each other rather than conflict?

Something that may perhaps link both Nudges and the Big Society is a greater understanding of the deeper relationships within social networks that can require both personal commitment, but can also support informal unthinking enforcement of social norms. Paul Ormerod’s recent RSA essay on the types of social network and the RSA’s recently published research into Connected Communities may be a way forward in defining the various types of social network for the further research and pilot projects that are likely to be required in this field over the next few years.

Jonathan Upton is Chairman of The Campaign Company.

Small transactions – is that what counts?

September 14, 2010

A friend recently emailed me a link to StreetBank which describes itself as “a site that helps you share and borrow things from your neighbours“. The site explains:

“Communities that help each other are closer, nicer, and friendlier to live in. Streetbank can help make your neighbourhood a nicer place. It also makes sense economically. If there are 100 houses on your road and each of them uses a ladder maybe once a year to clean the guttering, they probably don’t all need their own ladder. One ladder shared between everyone should be enough”

It’s a laudable endeavour, however from our experience of values based segmentation, it is likely that those who are  inner-directed may well see the immediate benefits of this website first. However from a values perspective, it also has the potential for people with different values to eventually adopt this behaviour if it is communicated well:

  • Inner directed – “It’s the community spirited thing to do”
  • Outer directed – “Others will respect me if they see I am contributing to this”
  • Sustenance driven – “It’s what we do round here, looking after ourselves”

Thus such a scheme has a lot of potential in the long-run to help build the resilience of communities across their differing values sets. Indeed unlike much more conceptual schemes such as Local Economic Trading Systems (LETS), StreetBank seems much more simply expressed and one that could be communicated to a wider range of values.

It also made me think that often in behaviour change we might look for the big systems and big bang approach when perhaps it is the small transactions that count? Perhaps the Government is recognising this too? A recent report in the Guardian explained that as a way to tackle intergenerational worklessness, the Government was looking at small-scale changes. It said:

Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, is looking at a radical scheme to change the lifestyles of families in which nobody of working age has ever had a job by improving their basic skills. Duncan Smith is examining a German approach where long-term unemployed families have been encouraged to create a “household culture” with trips to the cinema and evening classes.

Both the above illustrate how one might take theoretical approaches such as Obliquity which I recently blogged about here and apply it a small-scale local level.

Is the key to building good social networks, all those small transactions that we take part on a daily basis? Is that small-scale interaction, built around local reciprocation, supported by a range of local advocates, a vital behaviour that needs to be encouraged much further to assist with a range of positive social benefits? Perhaps it could also assist with “immunising” communities from the worst outcomes of other damaging behaviours as I have previously blogged here?

It is clearly worth testing the ideas above and seeing their impact. Even if they don’t achieve all their direct outcomes, they surely have a practical benefit in building the Big Society. Perhaps Local Council’s should be seeking to promote and encouraging either StreetBank or a locally badged scheme as a bottom-up precursor to developing wider forms of co-production? It might might also help with creating a culture that leads to greater support for Big Society initiatives. Something like Streetbank at a local level would explain those concepts in a practical way that no amount of glossy brochures might achieve. After all if people in the community know who has a ladder they can borrow, surely this could lead to them and the Council to knowing who has the shovels to help clear the snow in the winter?

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for the Campaign Company

A Big Society must include all elements of society

September 13, 2010

I recently contributed comments to a blog posting about the role of the public sector in the Big Society debate. I was responding to the author’s comment where he said, “Make no mistake – the private sector has a massive role to play and will deliver strong short-term savings. But it will not create the Big Society.”. Whilst this was clearly not a criticism of the private sector per se it did imply that it has little role to play in the Big Society and I think this misses a big opportunity.

It is important not to view the ‘Big Society’ as something that is somehow separate from ‘Society’ as a whole. The values exemplified by the ‘Big Society’ provide us with a vision of what we want society to become – and in a modern western nation the private sector is an intrinsic part of that society.

Is there not a danger that if we create an artificial construct that excludes the private sector, then there is a greater danger of it failing? A Big Society that does not include all sectors playing their part, misses an opportunity. If the Nat West Bank makes customer commitment 11 that it will be supporting a minimum level of staff volunteering, surely this is to applauded and seen as an integral example of the private sector playing its part in society. My TCC Colleague Charlie Mansell recently blogged how private sector organisations could help with supporting social networks in areas such as the Change4Life campaign. In other words there are a wider range of approaches to developing the Big Society that some social entrepreneurs with their understandable enthusiasm for promoting the sector they work in, might be missing out on.

In saying all this I speak as someone who is in the private sector. The values of TCC are absolutely in tune with those of the ‘Big Society’. And I don’t just mean in a googlesque ‘do no evil’ way or because we have adopted a CSR policy – but because we actively see our central mission as being one that helps tackle social, economic and health inequality. We certainly don’t feel that our ownership model hinders this mission – indeed in many ways our ability, for example, to take bounded risks which we, and only we, are responsible for increases the chances of innovation and enhances it.

Much of the debate in the Big Society is that it will lead to some sort of transfer of ownership. Thus any private sector involvement might then be seen as akin to 1980’s “privatisation”. Allowing a social enterprise, mutual of charity to deliver is now seen as the acceptable solution to past criticisms of a simple privatisation approach. However I’m not convinced that a change of ‘ownership’ inevitably leads to a real change in the nature of the relationship between service provider and user where one can see a shift in the balance of power and responsibility towards co-production. It’s much more complicated than that.

One of the reasons for that is the issue of different value sets held by individuals and organisations. There is often a  mismatch in the world view of those in the Public (or indeed Private) sector leading the provision of services and those who use these services , this mismatch of world views can be replicated in Social Enterprises.  It does not automatically evaporate because the service is ‘under new management’ just because they claim to be a socially responsible management.

There is a danger that the Big Society could simply be seen as some sort of asset transfer process, when surely the most important resource to examine and build up is a more motivated public willing to take part, through understanding their specific values and then supporting pro-social behaviours. Public sector, third sector and private sector alike, all have a role to play here.

Jonathan Upton
is Chairman of The Campaign Company

Health Information: Do people act on this alone?

September 10, 2010

The role of information in a health context is likely to expand even further over the next few years, with the  recent Health White Paper referring to an “information revolution”. The Coalition Government clearly sees transparency as a key element to improve individual quality of care and support the emerging market in the NHS and also a key driver for innovation and reform, driving up quality and productivity and achieving value for money.

Information is also vital for any form of co-production where patients may be asked to increasingly self-care with the support of professionals. The receipt and absorption of information can enable people to act so they can better look after themselves.

Within the NHS itself quality and standards of information are therefore seen as very important. The Information Standards Board for Health and Social Care in England (ISB) is tasked with the independent assurance and approval of information standards for adoption by the NHS and social care.  This ensures consistency in a situation where inaccurate information could have very serious consequences.

However despite the provision of better quality and timely information, it is clear that some people:

  • Don’t read or understand health information that is meant to be relevant to them
  • Don’t take their medication or adjust their prescription
  • Don’t eat 5 a day
  • Continue to smoke
  • Miss appointments

Clearly some of this is down to the issue of health literacy. Over 10 million adults in the UK have problems with basic language, literacy and numeracy which can contribute to all of the above. Increasingly, the link between low basic skills, health literacy and health outcomes is being recognised and tackled.

In addition the impact of globalisation has led to a significantly more diverse population within the UK. The NHS and health providers have led the way in terms of inequality and diversity ensuring information is delivered in a range of formats and languages as well as addressing any cultural differences.

So does tackling these issues solve the problem?

Even people without basic language or literacy problems still do not respond to the rational information that is presented to them. Why do people not act rationally, when in receipt of information? Why do they not take action when the information asks them to do so and is backed up by evidence and the authority of a respected institution such as the NHS? Can we make the information more directly salient to them and does this require a more fundamental behavioural approach based on what we understand nowadays about behaviour change?

Information and behaviour change: Motivation

In behaviour change theory, which health social marketing methodology is grounded on, two elements are seen as important to address. You cannot achieve a successful behavioural outcome without addressing both. They are:

  • Ability: “Do I have the ability to continue, start, adapt or stop this behaviour”? e.g. skills, tools, finance, time, physical and mental effort, knowledge and access
  • Motivation: “What’s in it for me, or for people like me, to start, adapt or stop this behaviour?”? e.g. How does any new or reinforced behaviour fulfil the needs of sensation, anticipation and belonging that are driven by my emotions and values

If one then takes this and applies it to our understanding of the current provision of health information, what do all the following have in common?

  • Provision of information
  • Information standards
  • Health literacy
  • Ensuring equalities and diversity

Each of them relates to tackling and supporting the ability of people to utilise the service.  This is understandable. Much of the development of public and welfare service in the last century or so, has focused on building infrastructure, to deliver services of which the provision of information is clearly a part.

Motivation has in the past often been secured through rules and sometimes direct incentives. However, many of the challenges we face now are both complex and intractable and more direct forms of motivation could be difficult to apply when dealing with individuals. No wonder the Prime Minster has been reported hiring Nudge author Richard Thaler.

When it comes to providing information the focus has naturally been to make information as accessible as possible. In other words much of the effort has gone on building mechanisms that enable people’s ability to access information without doing enough to understand who are motivated to obtain information and how this varies. Knowing this would be important in communicating messages to various segments.

How then can we motivate people to take action when in receipt of information? Taking account that resources to achieve this may be limited, how can we identify who are more motivated to act on information and, in particular, who are not?

Information and behaviour change: Emotions as well as Rationality

Often information is provided in a factual way that may make perfect sense to the values of the person writing it, but actually may completely convey completely different messages to the people receiving it.

Thus a very-well respected Doctor might appear on the front of a national paper, to say in very rational factual terms that groups in some communities are obese and need to change their lifestyles.  Someone who holds similar broadly optimistic values to the Doctor and who was obese might respond to that in rational/factual terms and at least seek information. However someone with a different set of values might well perceive the perfectly reasonable expression of opinion more as a message about them being wrong and/or stupid. Having more fatalistic or pessimistic values, they might choose to ignore it. The message might simply be added to other “telling offs” and slights they had received at other points in their life.

Often a more emotionally resonant message, told in story format may be more consistent with the target group’s values and thus better heeded. In addition the medium of communications is important too. Online communications by its very nature might be seen to support the rational messaging. For it to be expressed in a way that it is actually taken in it may require a personal interaction to reinforce the offline message.

The issue is how do we identify which values set are more likely to heed different types of messaging and which ones might require offline encouragement to motivate them.

Utilising Values Based Segmentation to target interventions

In order to understand levels of motivation and how important emotions are needed for communication one needs to understand people’s values. We have regularly blogged here about that. More details can be accessed here.

Traditional geo-demographic segmentation is not able to measure motivation or the role of emotions. It can tell you what behaviours there are and where behaviours occur, but cannot tell you why behaviours occur.

Values based segmentation focuses on understanding what drives people to behave as they do. Thus it has to understand the level of motivation and how important a role emotions as opposed to rationalism play in any group’s values set.

The danger information provider’s face is that they may hold values that lead them to be well-motivated and to set a high premium on rational information. This means they often solely aim their message to people who in effect who hold similar values and end up missing out people who hold different values

How values based segmentation and communication might help

If we understand levels of motivation and the importance of emotions in delivering messages there are a number of practical ways this can be taken forward:

  • Use the British Values Survey database to understand the groups that are most likely to both read the information and be turned off by it. This could be supplemented by qualitative research to explore people’s needs, values, world views, motivation and behaviour and how it relates to accessing and then to what degree acting on information
  • Develop ongoing consumer panels that includes sub-groups of all the values groups to regularly test how people respond and act on different types of information that is being provided
  • GP consortia in areas identified as having poor health outcomes could identify advocates within target communities who share similar values and are trusted to engage with in appropriate settings to express key messages in a consistent way.
  • Audit the full range of information sources and their delivery to see how they appeal in values-terms. Ensure they are designed so that people are more likely to be driven to action  utilising stories and other influence mechanisms to draw people with different values to use them

Conclusion: values driven information

There is a danger we can improve the ability of people to access to information in the coming years, but that it will just be received well by a minority. This paper argues that this is because the information is written and communicated to those who hold the same values set, one should not be surprised that only some will effectively act on it.

A values based segmented approach that can ensure that information is expressed as the right messages are communicated in the right way according to the values set of the people receiving it.

For organisations dedicated to providing rational and factual information this might at first seem something that is at variance with their focus. However in the end the whole point of information is to increase understanding that leads to action and if information is made available and does not resonate then it is a resource that is going to waste with the people who almost certainly need it most.

Jonathan Upton is Chairman of the Campaign Company.

The Big Society – falling on deaf ears?

September 8, 2010

One of the things TCC have stressed in recent years is that if you are communicating to the general public, an unsegmented message increasingly means you reach some people, but not others. In these more stringent times, that simply will not do! My TCC colleague Charlie Mansell, for example, recently blogged about the dangers of unsegmented messages around the current issue of financial reductions.

That weakness might be something that could be partly excused if it were different groups of people missed out each time and organisations at least got to everyone in the end. However the research we have conducted for a number of local authorities and other public and civic organisations, leads us to believe that far too often it is the same group of people. Some of the latest research was debated at a recent conference where Phillip Blond, the Director of the Think-Tank ResPublica was the keynote speaker and who warmly commented on the findings.

Readers of this blog will be aware that we have in recent years argued that values based segmentation is proving increasingly useful in seeking to understand what actually drives and motivates people to act the way they do. In other words it adds depth to  traditional geo-demographic segmentation, which might simply tell where certain positive or negative social behaviours occur more frequently.

We would argue that one of the key reasons those same people fail to be heard is that they hold values around security and safety when the organisation delivering the message is often either speaking in the outer directed values of “choice” or perhaps more inner directed values of “participation and engagement”.

Thus the challenge we identify  is not simply a technical one around people being “hard to reach”; it is much more about wrongly communicating to some people quite regularly. No wonder they might feel disaffected or distrustful of institutions. It is thus far more a “hard to engage” problem.

As well as the issue of finances we increasingly believe there could be a significant communications challenge over the issue of the Big Society, which the government sees as helping a wider range of stakeholders: individuals and communities to take on responsibilities formerly just the preserve of the state. As the coalition agreement on the Big Society states:

“We want to give citizens, communities and local government the power and information they need to come together, solve the problems they face and build the Britain they want. We want society – the families, networks, neighbourhoods and communities that form the fabric of so much of our everyday lives – to be bigger and stronger than ever before. Only when people and communities are given more power and take more responsibility can we achieve fairness and opportunity for all.

“Building this Big Society isn’t just the responsibility of just one or two departments. It is the responsibility of every department of Government, and the responsibility of every citizen too. Government on its own cannot fix every problem. We are all in this together. We need to draw on the skills and expertise of people across the country as we respond to the social, political and economic challenges Britain faces.”

The Government, and particularly Civil Society Minister Greg Clark, is beginning to recognise the need to have to communicate the Big Society to a wider audience than just think-tankers and journalists.  Nevertheless, as Ben Toombs at the RSA has recently commented there is still much more to do.

There has been some progress in this area as a result of Greg Clark’s recent speech on the subject which was recently blogged in detail by my colleague Charlie Mansell here. However it is still very much unclear as to whether this message will be effectively communicated to a wider range of values sets as well as at all levels, especially a local one.

Over the coming weeks, I will be looking at the issue of communicating the Big Society in much more detail and suggesting ways in which messages and the messengers that may appeal to one audience with more sympathetic values could be made more relevant to those with other values.

Jonathan Upton is Chairman of the Campaign Company.

Jeff French writes: Does one Hug, Shove or Smack as well as Nudge?

September 3, 2010

There is an increasing debate about the various types of behaviour change that one can now use. Should one Nudge, Think or Steer, or look at a wider mix of interventions? Charlie Mansell at TCC has recently blogged about some of these.

To take the debate even further, here is a matrix that compares the level of active conscious decision with the nature of the choice architecture. It is very important to take account of both when designing an intervention.

Creating any new form of choice architecture needs to take account of how much the response to it will be conditioned by conscious and unconscious reactions.

As can be seen there are not just Nudges, but a far richer range of approaches that can be adopted in response to the deep insight one gathers in any change programme.

Professor Jeff French is a non-executive Director of The Campaign Company, a professor at Brunel University and a Fellow at Kings College University of London. He founded and established the National Social Marketing Centre in England and currently is chief executive of Strategic Social Marketing Ltd. He will be a keynote speaker at the 2nd World Social Marketing Conference in 2011 in Dublin