I recently did another iteration of the Behavioural Design HoldUp in London. This time we focused on helping the Ministry of Waste (https://www.ministryofwaste.org/) who are helping clear plastic from the oceans and coastal communities by connecting waste pickers to the supply chain for recycled plastic. They started recently and are focused on quite a large behaviour change – helping people start their own micro-business collecting plastic – and so it was an interesting challenge to dig our teeth into! Working with social enterprises just as they are starting off I think is the time when applying these principles can be most useful as it infuses it within the core of the intervention’s mission rather than being an add-on small nudge later on. I also find that sometimes early-stage social entrepreneurs can get stuck on an idea, and doing this type of workshop early on is a good way to pivot away from that first idea!
We started off with focusing on a habit of our own we wanted to change. I wanted to set the context in this way to a) give the participants something for coming; b) remind them how difficult it is to change our own behaviours and achieve what can seem like a simple change to make, and c) introduce the principles without a big lecture! We used BJ Fogg’s framework of creating a “Tiny Habit” – something very small and easy to do that we do daily triggered by something already within our routine and then celebrated when we achieve it. This fits in with his overall framework of people needing the Motivation and Ability as well as a Trigger to remind them to actually do the behaviour. We had some fun sharing ideas of how to exercise in the morning and stretch and pursue passions like filming.
Sam then talked us through the Ministry of Waste and also introduced us to the context of the Philippines (where she’ll be starting off the Ministry of Waste). One of the challenges I faced when thinking through how to do the workshop is whether people would feel comfortable that they had enough knowledge about people’s behaviour half way around the world to think through how to go about changing it. Broadly, the principles still apply as we’re all humans but often the key insight is knowing the specifics. We solved this (not perfectly) by Sam answering whatever questions people had as we went along.
The main body of the workshop was people working in small groups in response to some questions built from the Behavioural Insights Team’s EAST framework (make something Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely), insights from Irrational Labs as well as the academic literature. Working with some non-native English speakers and also non-behavioural-specialists helped me realise that I need to make some of the questions more accessible. One of the biggest stumbling blocks we could see was the low social status of waste pickers, and so it was key to change people’s attitudes towards waste as dirty and often unsafe to a respectful way to make some extra money at key times of the year when people are a bit low on cash, e.g. before / after Christmas, weddings etc. One way to do so was to actually make it safer – provide think rubber gloves and other equipment as appropriate so that it’s not a trade-off between health and making money (clearly risking people’s health is not a goal of the Ministry of Waste!) The other way to make it more socially acceptable we came up with was making it more acceptable through community competitions incentivised by investment in the communities by the supply chain companies, and making churches out of plastic (symbolically important in making it ok for the most sacred building in the community) as well as developing it as a secure career path. To make it attractive, we discussed cash in hand, surge pricing after particularly high tides, and a marketing campaign of picking up a better future. To make it easy and timely, we talked about how they could could fit it into their everyday lives e.g. picking up plastic during journeys they are making anyway, collection of the plastic from the individual’s house for the early adopters, that the best time to do it might be different times than other jobs due to the tides.
In terms of what I learnt, I underestimated how well people would respond to the questions based on dealing with emotions, for example, how to reduce people’s fears. And I also underestimated how useful the “Guidance notes” were that I prepared as a bit of a second thought. They set the context for why we were asking the questions. Asking “How do we make something attractive?” seems like an obvious question with some obvious answers but the guidance note explained that sometimes the long-term and / or societal benefits are obvious but that we need to bring them forward to the individual in that current moment when they’ve got so many other things to worry about or be distracted by. The next iteration may also have another stage where we try to combine a few ideas from the smaller discussions (maybe at random) and see if we can get them to fit together to increase their probability of success. Watch this space!