Councillors call for implementation of ‘behaviour change’ policies to help reach net zero carbon

Islington Town Hall. Photograph: Islington Council.

Councillors are calling upon the Town Hall administration to set up a pilot project to investigate the application of behavioural change programmes to the local population through Town Hall policy.

A review from the council’s Environment & Regeneration scrutiny committee recommends that funding be made available for behaviour change programmes to support the council’s commitment to reaching its target of net zero carbon by 2030.

An analysis would then take place following the completion of a pilot project with the results submitted to the committee within six months “with a view to promoting further work on behavioural change within the council.”

A summary of the committee’s findings reads: “The realisation of the need to influence behaviour change in all aspects of society has resulted in institutions and government applying behavioural insights into public policy around the world.

“The art of influencing behaviour is nothing new, and has been around for quite a while, for example coercion. However what is new in recent years has been identifying how best to do it.

“Recent research in behavioural science indicates that approaches based on information and education do not actually work that well, but people are influenced in remarkably similar ways by the framing of a decision, and by subtle contextual factors which are fast, automatic and largely unconscious.”

The review notes studies showing that motivation plays a key factor in people’s behaviour, of which 80 per cent is reflective, which is uncontrolled, emotional, effortless, fast and unconscious, and the remaining 20 per cent, automatic which is controlled, rule based, slow, rational and conscious.

Examples cited by councillors of successful behaviour change explored in their review include the drawing of flies on men’s urinals at Amsterdam Airport resulting in “a significant decline in spillages on the toilet floor, and importantly cleaning cost.”

Another example cited in the report is the decision by Lake Shore, Chicago’s highway authority to paint narrow white lines on the road in an area notably for high levels of accidents, resulting in drivers unconsciously slowing down, with councillors focusing in particular on a behavioural change ‘nudge’ unit instituted at Croydon Council, the first of its kind in local government.

One of the policies rolled out in Croydon were “subtle changes to the invitation letter” to young people for appointments at its Looked After Children department, with the insertion of a map within the letter, the time of the appointment and a tear off reminder slip resulting in a 50 per cent fall in Did Not Attend appointments.

Another success highlighted in evidence, as a result of employing ‘nudge theory’, was the painting of baby faces on shop shutters, with evidence indicating “that such an image speaks to people’s innate caring nature as no one wants to deface baby images.”

Experimental trials with baby faces introduced in Camden and Croydon resulted in a 50 per cent reduction in antisocial behaviour, according to the report.

Such policies in changing behaviour are seen as “key” by councillors in reaching Islington’s 2030 carbon-neutral target, with the administration called upon to “understand and comprehensively adopt an assessment of users’ behaviour, and the monetary or psychological incentives to change such behaviours, if necessary.”

The policies are also seen by the committee as a specific aid to achieving the council’s target of 36 per cent reduction in Recycling and Waste Reduction by 2025.

In a foreword to the report, Cllr David Poyser wrote: “Ultimately, the aim is that service design and supporting communications, especially those aiming to achieve the Borough’s 2030 carbon neutral target, will be evidence based.

“The council should consider investing in developing behaviour change expertise to support delivery of services – possibly within the corporate communications team.

“The evidence from the scrutiny is that this could be self-financing, with development costs recouped from successful behaviour change projects. There is a need for evidence and lessons learnt in any trials to be disseminated effectively amongst appropriate staff to understand the processes necessary to change behaviour.”