Other “levers” to invoke behavior change

Posted by bill brower on April 26th, 2010

Many NGOs, particularly environmental NGOs, are in the business of seeking to change people’s behavior. As anyone with experience trying to do so will tell you, this can be no small order. There are only so many “levers” that one can manipulate to try to influence what someone chooses to do or not do.
Often the biggest lever, and sometimes the only one of consequence, is financial. Farmers in developing countries aren’t going to adopt organic practices unless it saves them substantial money on inputs and/or gives them access to a premium market. People aren’t going to stop poaching endangered animals as long as there is a healthy market for them.
What I find really interesting are the other levers. In addition to making something a status symbol, appealing to parents’ concern for their children’s health, making something “cool”, passing relevant laws, etc. I’ve heard of a couple others recently that I hadn’t come across before. I spoke a couple months ago to a woman who had spent time in Somalia with an organization aiming to reduce the practice of open-field defecation (i.e. promoting the use of toilets). When their initial efforts were disappointing, they started essentially a marketing campaign saying how distasteful of a practice it was to not use a toilet. The message caught on and people started using toilets much more, mostly because they now felt ashamed not to. Obviously shame is not a lever to use lightly, particularly for an outside organization, but it is a potentially powerful one.
The other I just heard about just today. There is a protected forest, Bajra Baharahi, near a school I was visiting outside Kathmandu, Nepal. The woman from Sarvodaya Nepal that I was meeting with told me that growing up everyone said that if you took anything, even one dead leaf, from that forest that you would have bad luck. When she later came to work in that community, she found out that rumor was started as part of conservation efforts. Superstition! I love it.
What levers have you found effective?

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One Response to “Other “levers” to invoke behavior change”

  1. Uma says:

    Good one Bill. Liked the word ‘levers’..