Change here first


Behaviour change is the new big thing. We’re all into nudging, creating compelling narratives and gently steering people towards new ways of doing things. And a good job too – in some areas such as health, prevention can help make scarce resources go much further.

But it’s not easy. The public sector simply doesn’t have the financial firepower of say supermarkets in altering behaviour. It’s no accident that we are exposed to particular smells, sounds and visuals as walk into our local branch of Whateverburies. They know what works. Careful placing of particular products in key places is no happy accident; it’s what will sell more stuff.

But we simply don’t have the same degree of control over the environmental factors that can create successful behaviour change.

Or do we?

Is it time that we used our own organisations to test ways of changing behaviour? Take productivity. Research shows that we are amongst the least productive countries in the EU. Could we create campaigns that drive up productivity and efficiency in local authorities? The findings about what worked and what did not could be used to inform the way we engage audiences with similar demographics in the community.

Or volunteering? Again, another way of liberating resources as “free” person power removes the need to employ staff where the work could be done at no charge by others. What about a series of campaigns across the public sector trialling different approaches to see which message approach, which messengers and which images increase volunteering the most.


LGcomms could be asked to coordinate and share the results. The findings could then be used to inform free to download campaigns available free of charge to all councils.

Given the size, complexity and representativeness of the UK public sector, it could be a test bed for a wide range of behaviour changing communication campaigns.

Theoretically, it could yield a great deal of data: who saw the message, what types of reinforcement work, what images were effective, which media drove the points home. Using home territory, we could weed out expensive and time-consuming communications that depend upon private sector involvement.

If you’ve ever been involved with the financial planning industry, one of the first things they do is encourage you to sell to your friends and family. It promotes your ownership – you are publicly nailing your colours to this mast. What’s more, it’s a hard sell. So if you can overcome objections at home, then you’ve got more chance of doing so with perfect strangers.

Indoors before big outdoors

So before you head for the big outdoors with your wonderful graphics, cleverly worded campaigns and ready-to-go blogs and articles, take your ideas for a test-drive in your own organisation. Write up the results. Be honest about what does and doesn’t work. Then share the results with colleagues across the public sector. Not only will you save money but you’ll produce material – through trial and error – that will help you with the big challenges you face both in your organisations and in your local communities.

If you adopt this approach, share the results warts and all. Some things simply won’t work. It’s as important to what does as well as what doesn’t. Don’t be tempted to spin small successes. Rather trumpet big failures. That way you’ll be doing everyone a major favour by helping them avoid more costly (in money and time) mistakes.

Ultimately, if you can deliver real behaviour change in your organisation, you’ll be well on your way to delivering it in your community.

To read Be Smarter by Mark Fletcher-Brown, visit the resources section of the LGcomms website.

Posted on 8th November 2017