Behaviour and system change to create shared value.

Thank goodness for good government.

You might have been saying this recently. If not out loud, perhaps during your morning walk or while, aghast, watching the news on TV.

Governments are increasingly required to lead, coordinate, and deliver in response to economic, environmental, social and health issues, many of which are escalating to crises.

But many of the challenges, and certainly the crises, have no borders and don’t care much for regulation. Once rampant, they are hard to manage and contain.

The complexity and scale of society’s challenges demand cross-sector partnerships: business, not-for-profit, academic and community organisations working together.

The question facing public policy experts, is how?

  • How to use big data and AI to focus government spending or intervention
  • How to empower Australians to make better choices with information and technology
  • How to solve intractable disadvantage and inequality
  • How to stop a pandemic

There are wicked problems – complex and dependent on many factors – but there also simple changes to improve lives and avoid crises. The task is to understand systems and the behaviour of people within, and without, them.

Systems and service design has focused government planning on humans. Human centred design, patient centred care, customer centric services; these are the goals and promises of our institutions.

But systems are only as good as the people that use them, and mostly in intended ways.

Ellis Jones’ work spans behavioural/social research, systems design and communications. While excited by the potential of emerging practices, we are also becoming much clearer on the gaps.

In a fairly recent conversation with the director of a government team focused on using data and technology to improve health outcomes, I heard a familiar story of disconnect. It went something like this,

“Our data analytics and design teams developed an application for a health care setting, but we didn’t get great results. Nurses didn’t use the platform properly. Not sure we’ll do it again.”

It seems clear that the behaviour of nurses – not just their daily routines but the attitudes, mental models and heuristics influencing their decisions – was not adequately considered. And this has not only doomed the current project but all possible future projects or iterations.

Why did this happen? The design process did not have all the right people at the table, and the right information on the table. The launch of the project was also not supported with behaviour change communications that built momentum through the usual early stage speedhumps and learnings.

Nurses should have been at the centre of the design process – but also, I’d urge, communicators.

Communications professionals have been striving to understand behaviour since communication grew from being a noun to a career. Their toolkit has swelled over the years – most recently with the academic investment in cognitive psychology and behavioural economics – but the driving force has always been the same: to understand and influence people.

Equally, system and service designers see many more moving parts than communicators ever have. They map systems within systems, revealing how decisions made at a distance, have ramifications that cannot be seen by mapping stakeholder landscapes or customer journeys.

Why is this important? We believe the future success of democratic capitalism relies on governments and their partners getting this right. It’s a big statement but we are seeing the lack of understanding, leading to lack of preparation, and then chaotic lived experience playing out. Repeatedly.

We have the tools and the expertise. Once we develop the conceptual models and system architecture, we can start to conceive the change we need, and prepare for that which we do not.

As a result, trust in our institutions will improve. We will be more confident in the experts who manage the tools. And our politicians will be better informed, giving them the opportunity to lead with information and emotion.

“..the APS … is not ready for the big changes and challenges that Australia will face between now and 2030. The service’s ill-preparedness reflects historical challenges in addressing known issues – including in its people, its enabling systems and its culture.” – Our APS, Our Future

Right now, we are not ready. However, the federal government’s APS review, Our APS, Our Future, plots a path to building integrity and trust. And there are so many incredibly talented people working for our governments. Too often, they have been restricted not empowered – if that changes, we will benefit.

In state governments, service design and social innovation teams are receiving welcome investment. They just need to integrate the communications directorate on the other side of the town.

A simple formula

Behaviour change + System change = Social and economic benefit (shared value)

Our goal should be that all Australians find, understand and access the services they require… within systems that are managed and flexible, delivering individualised user experiences… that create social and economic value through the most efficient use of resources… for the benefit of society.

The task is to:

  1. Map systems
  2. Map behaviour
  3. Build capability
  4. Establish partnerships
  5. Adapt services and practices
  6. Communicate!

Behaviour change.

To influence people’s behaviours, we consider:

  • Cognition (how we process information)
  • Social psychology (how we interact); and
  • Behavioural economics (how we make choices).

Then we apply established models within settings to:

  • Target specific behaviours by audience or user group (segments)
  • Exploit or mitigate known biases and heuristics
  • Nudge at the time and place a choice is made; and
  • Appeal to both emotional and functional drivers, by bringing psychology and creativity together, to move people.

As the Fogg Behaviour Model defines, there are three components to behaviour: motivation, ability and a prompt. The relative strength of these makes us more or less likely to undertake an action.

The more motivated we are, and the easier it is, the more likely a prompt will result in us doing it.

This simple model is powerful in assessing system interventions because it forces us to consider if what we are asking of the user is realistic. Is it capacity or incentive (or both) that we should be investing in?

System mapping enables communicators to identify and rank all the factors influencing behaviour in order to monitor and influence them until the ultimate outcome is achieved, or continues to be achieved over time.

Any system change must ask: Why do people do what they do? How do we influence what they do?

No individual acts in a vacuum. There are several settings within which you can seek to influence or change behaviour. Government has the capacity to act in each sphere.

“… social and behaviour change programming should always consist in multi-faceted strategies and tactics winning people’s hearts and minds, but also winning the crowd and shaping the environment to induce positive actions.” – The Behavioural Drivers Model, UNICEF

Key points:

  • Consider exactly which people (segments) and which (specific) actions
  • Tap into latent motivations and increase cognitive availability
  • Couple emotional and functional payoffs in a (simple) message
  • Make it easy: consider the steps, the user interface, the positive reinforcement once it’s done
  • Assess the settings within which an individual moves: can you influence their influencers?

System change.

We live and work in complex systems, interacting with people and machines digitally and physically.

Often, the systems that are guiding our behaviour are not obvious to us. But systems drive behaviour and behaviour drives systems.

We used to look at a ‘stakeholder landscape’ by target audience. Now we also look at system intersection and user behaviour. And the causal loops between ‘nodes’.

The main steps in system change are:

  1. Assemble a core-co-design group (experts and influencers)
  2. Set a vision and goals
  3. Map the system and its actors
  4. Define the lived experience of users, and the causal loops driving behaviour
  5. Undertake scenario planning and define future states
  6. Generate concepts for prototyping
  7. Develop a roadmap (consider using the theory of change framing)
  8. Test prototypes in real world situations, scaling over time
  9. Initiate and monitor systems chance, adapting and refining.

Some key points:

  • Service design offers communicators a richer understanding of context. Communicators see that context through a different lens to designers.
  • Identity, how we perceive ourselves and the people/places that influence us, decides our engagement with a system.
  • People trust based on beliefs and attitudes.
  • Employees and users are experts in lived experience. Ask them.

It’s all about creating shared value.

Governments govern on behalf of the people, for the people. And that’s all people.

To use management parlance, that means creating ‘value’. Value takes many forms but, overall, it means economic, social and environmental value.

For the family at home, that means financial security, health and wellbeing, and a natural environment that supports quality of life.

That’s shared value. To us, shared value is a philosophy, an outcome and a strategy. It has a formal definition, too.

For government, a focus on shared value creation works for service, program and policy development. It is also a foundation for cross sector partnerships, aligning all partners behind a vision of change while defining the roles and resources each must play to achieve a well-defined set of benefits.

Shared value is particularly useful when:

  • Supporting private sector capability to deliver government services (e.g. aged care, waste services)
  • Framing investment and assessing co-investment from philanthropic or private sector partners
  • Establishing a foundation for design process that engages CALD, Indigenous or vulnerable communities.

At Commonwealth level, both DFAT and DoEE have used shared value as a framework for program and/or system design. Here’s a case study on our work in shared value partnerships for government.

Key points:

  • The challenges are too complex, the investment too great, for government to solve them alone.
  • Government-led partnerships need to be framed for shared value creation.
  • Co-design lowers risk, aligns partners, prototypes initiatives, prepares conditions for launch.
  • Diarising and measurement provides evidence and content for storytelling and motivation – moving hearts and minds, and keeping people engaged until results are seen and felt.

Merge and conquer.

Bringing communicators and system/service designers together is a bit like bringing the (metaphoric) left and right sides of the brain together. Helping us to engineer and sense simultaneously.

That’s the quality we seek in leadership – the ability to see the big picture, and keep a finger on the pulse, acting at just the right time.

We need behaviour and systems change. And these are the times for governments to lead.

Talk to us about system change and behaviour change.