This webpage explores the different elements of human behaviour change and why many of us working in animal welfare believe that we can benefit from learning about human, as well as animal, behaviour.
The root cause of much animal suffering is human behaviour. However, traditional approaches to improving animal welfare have focussed on providing a service, such as accessible veterinary treatment, or campaigning for people to change their consumer habits. The understanding of why people do what they do, don’t do what you’d like them to, and more often than not do not change their behaviour, is the holy grail of anyone with something to sell, a campaign to promote or a desire to improve the world. For this reason human behaviour change has been studied by experts in marketing, psychology, development, and health and education programmes – understanding human behaviour is important for anyone with an interest in helping the world to be a better place for humans or animals.
The output of this huge body of work can be roughly summarized into four pillars: the process of change; the psychology of change; the environment for change; and ownership of change.
The process of change
What causes people to change their behaviour has been studied from many different angles and the answer is different depending on which aspect has been investigated. There are many useful theories to explore – for example theory of change considers what is needed for change by identifying causes of each milestone. It is a process used to create a strategy and can also be done retrospectively to understand how change happened. This approach is becoming increasingly used in strategic planning of animal welfare projects.
The transtheoretical model outlines ‘stages of change’ in individuals through five stages (pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance). This model includes ten processes of change – overt and covert activities that people use to progress through the stages. Other models depict change as less linear with feedback loops and cycles. This concept is useful for people working with individual clients such as vets and behaviourists.
The main elements considered in the overall process of change are the triggers for behaviour change, the connections between the points and whether they can be mapped to better facilitate change. These elements can be applied at all levels from individuals to mass behaviour change.
The psychology of change
This pillar explores areas such as how much change is someone’s autonomous decision and how much is as a result of influence by others; how the mind works in processing new information; what factors affect our motivation for change; how barriers for change are often very deep-seated beliefs and values and how to best address this, and much more. If we have a better understanding of what motivates and influences people we can apply the knowledge directly to our work. There are different ‘camps’ in this field, each disagreeing about the primary drivers and how they interact, but it is useful to understand each perspective in the search for the best match for your work.
Understanding the motivation for change and how new behaviours are deserted or maintained is necessary in planning effective projects. An understanding of the relationship between behaviour change of individuals and how that translates to increasing the dissemination of information and change throughout a community is vital in planning and adapting projects that rely on the spread of best practices.
Creating an environment to change
How do you facilitate change, break down barriers, create social trends, and encourage new dialogue that becomes the norm? Social marketing is the main discipline to look to for the answers. Well-used in the health and environmental sectors, social marketing identifies barriers to change, proposes solutions, works to enable change by providing a suitable environment and uses concepts from group psychology to drive social change. Social marketing is mostly relevant for ‘mass’ change but can also be used on a smaller scale to encourage take up and spread of ideas through communities.
Ownership of change
There is a saying “Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I truly understand”, which perfectly illustrates this pillar of change. People need to truly appreciate the relevance of the desired behaviour change to them for change to happen. If we understand that people learn and change if they are not told what to do through resources or typical top-down educational outreach, not just shown what to do through demonstration, but are truly involved in the process of change, we can facilitate that change. This process involves enabling people and communities to explore issues and come up with solutions themselves rather than ‘train them’ to implement a preconceived solution.
There are differences of preferred strategy in how to best introduce participatory approaches into projects and to what level the preliminary research is done in a participatory manner. Also, the extent to which communities are given autonomy in a project varies given that the aim of the organisations introducing the approach generally have their own goals to meet, such as improving animal welfare rather than starting a process that could lead to an increase in concerns for animals where human and animal needs conflict.
Positive deviance also comes under this pillar - an approach based on the observation that even though most individuals or groups in a community usually have access to the same resources or face similar challenges, some find better solutions than others. The community-driven approach enables people to discover these successful behaviours in their communities and develop a plan of action of dissemination.
These pillars reflect our current framing of the concepts that underpin what is included in the study of human behaviour change, there are many alternative ways they could be categorised and there is considerable overlap.