(Published in ChangeAgent , the publication of the Sustain our Africa Summit, October 2012)

We humans have to change our ways, get off the runaway growth train and use less natural resources wherever we can. This is obvious  – to a good few.But how will most of us be encouraged to live and work in sustainable ways?

Advocacy organisations, deep green proselytisers and idealists can and must continue to shout from the roof tops to tell all who will listen to change their ways.

But it comes down to earth as it were when, for example,  a local government department wants to put taxpayers money into a pro-environmental change programme that requires contractors to get people living in an area to lessen their use of energy or water, or to recycle their waste.

This is about practical behaviour change on the ground.  It’s about designing programmes that can foster and enable the necessary changes and then measure them.

‘It’s  what we do around here’

Around the world as more local and regional governments fund these kinds of programmes, effective methods and tools are coming to the fore. These  take a systematic,  phased approach with the aim that  the desired behaviour change becomes a social norm in the area of attention. Becoming routine behaviour or ‘it’s what we do around here’ is the goal.

Some of the methods include initial research in the community to uncover drivers and barriers to change, ensuring that infrastructure enables easy take-up, using local media and communications, measuring resource reduction impacts, and feeding these back to the community.

If done well, the acceptance process of new behaviour follows a bell-curve  – from innovators and early adopters in the beginning, through early and late majority, to laggards bringing up the rear.

This is a long way from using the shotgun approach of broad-based ‘awareness and education.’   Designed with and for the local community, culture and context it has   much higher chances of success.


–  Hugh Tyrrell, founder of Cape-based GreenEdge Communications facilitated
an SOA  Change Agent session on ‘Communication and Behaviour Change’

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