Nudging behavioural change can be achieved through a number of methods: information provision; changes to the physical environment; changing the default options and application of social norms. The recent Lords Select Committee report concluded that there has been mixed success in real application and that there was a clear need for development of understanding through applied evaluation research to better understand the variability in success and guide more effective programmes in the future. We at NEMS are not ones to shy away from a challenge and have already been taking a critical look at one area in particular, that of social norms.
The principle behind using social norms is that people’s behaviour is heavily influenced by perceptions of how our peers behave, and using the dissemination of information on actual norms to correct misperceptions that may occur that are adversely affecting behaviour.
This link between an individual’s behaviour and how they perceive behaviour of others suggests that people show a preference for behaving like others (or the opposite) – adapting to the norm. However, this model can be equally applied to response to questions in a survey.
Our early results suggest that this is indeed the case. Given that preliminary primary research forms the basis of any subsequent campaign, getting this right is critical to the campaign’s success. May the potential minefield of complexity in implementing this research be one of the reasons why past campaigns have met with such variablity in success? I also have some concerns over the trend towards blurring of boundaries between research and public engagement. While at times they can go hand-in-hand, one can potentially compromise the other if they are too closely allied; our social norms research demonstrates the challenges in collecting reliable data.
We will be publishing the results of our preliminary research next month; if you want to know more then check it out.