Encourage Commitment

Even if a policy or programme is seen favourably by the public, individuals might simply not have enough willpower to engage in the desired behaviour.

We list a number of techniques below that you can use to help citizens and businesses keep up with their good intentions.

Enhance citizens’ self-efficacy

Motivate citizens to perform your target behaviour by enhancing their sense of being capable of carrying out the behaviour.

To bolster individuals' sense of self-efficacy:

  1. Remind people about similar challenges that they were able to overcome successfully in the past.
  2. Set role models that they can look up to and imitate .
  3. Get other people, such as family members, neighbours or peers, to encourage the target individual(s).

Actions that seem daunting might lead citizens or businesses to lose motivation and interest with the task. Highlighting individuals' capabilities and skills can combat attrition due to perceived lack of skills.


Case Study
Perceived Self-Efficacy Leads to Increased Sustainable Behaviour

A 2017 study conducted in the U.S. and Australia investigated the connection between self-efficacy and sustainability behaviour.

The researchers assessed perceived self-efficacy and engagement in sustainable behaviours using a number of survey measures. The results indicated that individuals who reported higher levels of self-efficacy were more likely to indicate higher levels of participation in sustainable activity.

Policies designed to increase sustainable practices should incorporate tools to increase people's perceived competency and self-efficacy.

Use time- and quantity-limited incentives

Help people overcome procrastination by offering limited incentives. Emphasise the scarcity of incentives to motivate people to action.

People tend to perceive things that are scarce as more valuable than that which is plentiful; therefore, emphasising the limited nature of an incentive will increase its appeal.

For example, incentive programmes, such as rebates or home retrofit programmes, should be presented as limited offers available only within a discrete window of time or to a predetermined number of individuals.


Case Study
Time-Limited Incentives Boost Solar Panel Purchases in Germany

Governments in many countries offer grants to boost purchases of renewable energy sources (RES), such as solar panels.

In Germany, the amount of money a grant applicant can receive changes with time, as regulated by The Renewable Energy Sources Act.

A 2017 study found that investments in RES increase immediately before an announced reduction of the remuneration.

This highlights that favourable, time-limited offers can help citizens overcome procrastination when applying for renewable energy grants and subsidies.

Use Commitment Devices

Incorporate commitment devices, which prompt behaviour change by imposing restrictions on individuals' future choices.

A commitment device involves making a contract to complete a designated action; individuals are then rewarded or punished depending on whether they achieve the target behaviour or not. Implement commitment devices by providing opportunities for individuals to commit themselves to a particular behaviour. It may be beneficial to make these commitments public, as this can increase people's likelihood of following through with the target behaviour.


Case Study
Financial and Social Commitment Devices Increase Follow-Through on is a platform that allows users to employ commitment devices to encourage adherence to a particular behaviour, such as environmental, health, professional, or personal goals.

A 2019 study investigated the effectiveness of various commitment devices, such as social contracts (i.e., agreements made between users to stick to their goals) and financial stakes.

The researchers found that social and financial commitment devices were more effective when implemented separately; further, social commitment devices were most impactful when they provided engagement and social support. Notably, allows users to nominate Supporters, whose job is to motivate and cheer on the user in achieving her goal.

Policies for sustainable behaviour change should include opportunities for individuals to use commitment devices to increase adherence to the new behaviour.

Show that relevant others care about the behaviour

In situations where the majority of citizens are already performing a desired behaviour, highlight this fact in your communications to strengthen the positive social norm.

Motivate your target group to comply with your programme or policy by drawing their attention to the positive behaviour of the majority. More relatable reference groups create a stronger motivation to comply; therefore, you should aim to highlight the desirable behaviour of people who are relevant to your target population. Drawing attention to others' positive behaviour can effectively increase engagement.


Case Study
Employing Social Norms to Increase E-Bike Use

2014 study conducted in Switzerland investigated the effect of social norms messaging on electronic bike use as a primary mode of transportation.

Participants were given feedback about their e-bike usage at strategic intervals and were also informed how their e-bike use compared to that of others in the treatment group (i.e., social norms information). The researchers observed that social norms messaging had a positive effect on e-bike use for commuting.

Policies designed to increase sustainable modes of transport should incorporate opportunities for social norms-based communication.

Encourage citizens to make a small commitment first

Encourage people to make big commitments by getting them to make smaller adjustments initially.

By getting citizens to make a small commitment first, you can increase the chances that they will follow through with bigger changes. People often delay or shy away from big commitments; starting with smaller changes can open the door for more substantial adjustments later on. Build on these small adjustments and use these changes to motivate people to continue making commitments to reduce their energy consumption or embark on more sustainable habits


Case Study
Using the Foot-in-the-Door Technique to Increase and Promote Recycling

An early experiment conducted in 1977 evaluated the effectiveness of using the foot-in-the-door technique to encourage recycling.

Participants in the experimental conditions were to place a sign promoting recycling in their windows. Two weeks later, participants were again contacted and asked to comply with a more substantial request relating to promoting recycling.

The results indicated that individuals who had first been presented with a small request were more likely to comply with the larger request than those who did not receive the first request.

Policies aimed at encouraging substantial behaviour change should incorporate opportunities for individuals to first accomplish small or moderate behavioural tasks.

Help citizens set attainable goals

Help individuals break down their goals into manageable pieces and provide regular feedback on their goal attainment.

Identify concrete and small behavioural targets that people can hold onto on their way to achieving more ambitious goals. Provide regular feedback to give people a sense of ongoing progression. Applaud people's successful changes and reward their efforts when possible. This will encourage citizens to reach their goals and then set new milestones to achieve.


Case Study
Goal-Setting Increases Sustainable Behaviours

A meta-analysis conducted by Osbaldiston and colleagues (2012) found that goal-setting was one of the most effective tools for encouraging pro-environmental behaviours. Asking individuals to aim for a predetermined goal, such as reducing their water use or energy consumption by approximately 10%, effectively bolsters environmentally-conscious activity.

Furthermore, another study found that when people set a realistic goal (0-15% in electricity savings), they saved more energy (11%) compared to the average sample (4%), in which the set goals ranged between 0% and 50%.

Policymakers should provide opportunities for individuals to set realistic goals to bolster green activity.

Link the desired behaviour to personal and social values

Conduct research to understand values that individuals in your target group care about the most and then link the desired behaviour to these values.

Try to identify and establish links between the values held by your target group and the new programme or policy that aims to reduce energy consumption. You should strive to understand individuals' primary values, as people are more likely to adopt a behaviour and continue this behaviour over time if it aligns with their sense of self.

Drawing a connection between the goal behaviour and your target audience's sense of identity can bolster engagement in and commitment to the desirable action.


Case Study
Understanding Political Group Identity and Tailoring Values-Based Communications about Carbon Tax Policies

A large-scale 2019 experiment showed that individuals who identify with the Democrat party in the US were more likely to support a carbon tax policy and engage in policy-supportive behaviour when the policy was promoted on the basis of in-group (i.e. Democrat) values.

Specifically, the policy highlighted carbon tax as a way to reduce global inequality and protect the environment against the activities of large businesses, which align with liberal themes. However, the study also found that for Republican participants, aligning the policy with in-group values did not increase its acceptance.

This suggests that value-aligned communications might be effective only for certain populations and outlines the necessity of testing the communication on the target group prior to its full roll out.