Increase Public Acceptance

Citizens might distrust the institution or the figure that promotes the policy or programme, which might reduce their willingness to engage in the desired behaviour.

We provide a number of techniques below which you can use to increase public trust and public compliance.

Present balanced information about the impacts of your programme

Provide balanced information, particularly when promoting potentially controversial policies or programmes.

Emphasise the benefits while acknowledging potential risks or drawbacks. Communications that cherry-pick positive facts tend to be perceived as less trustworthy and can lead to lower policy compliance. When introducing a new programme or policy, acknowledge its downsides and any potential 'unknowns.' This will help to increase public perceptions of transparency and trust in the communicator of the message.


Insights from another field
Balanced Information about Flu Vaccinations Increases Uptake of the Jab

A 2016 study conducted in the UK investigated how best to use persuasive messaging to increase flu vaccination uptake.

The researchers found that fact-based, balanced information was received best by participants. In particular, communication that presented both the benefits and risks of vaccination was perceived as most convincing and useful.

When presenting information about a new programme or policy, it is most beneficial to be clear and honest about both the benefits and challenges that participants may experience.

Make communications simple and brief

Avoid unnecessary information when introducing the programme or policy to the public.

Simple communications tend to be perceived as more trustworthy. When introducing the policy or the programme, keep communication brief and easy to understand while avoiding unnecessary jargon and long paragraphs. Using clear, accessible language can both increase citizens' engagement with the policy or programme and boost trust in the communications.



Case Study
Using Clear Communication Boosts Customer Engagement an Online Water Audit Tool

In 2019 The Behaviouralist conducted an experiment in partnership with Northumbrian water to evaluate the effectiveness of various behaviourally-informed communications to encourage customer engagement with an online water audit tool.

The results of the study highlighted that simple, brief communication was most effective at boosting customer engagement.

Eliminating jargon and making communication clear and straightforward can help increase people's understanding and positive engagement with the topic. To learn more about this study, please contact The Behaviouralist directly.

Correct false beliefs and address misinformation

Identify segments of your target population that are most vulnerable to misinformation and use pre-bunking and de-bunking strategies to limit the spread of false information.

Limit the spread of misinformation by ensuring that the public has access to easy-to-understand information about the new policy or programme and its purpose. Seek to disseminate the information through culturally aligned messages and messengers. Further, employ pre-bunking and de-bunking strategies to combat climate change misinformation.

Pre-bunking techniques seek to address misinformation preemptively by raising awareness about (1) the possibility of falling prey to falsehoods and (2) the common manipulation techniques they use.

De-bunking involves correcting false beliefs and providing individuals' with accurate, digestible information. Together, pre-bunking and de-bunking techniques help individuals identify misinformation and be more receptive to the policy or programme.


Insights from another field
Prebunking Against COVID-19 Misinformation

A recent study assessed the effectiveness of a brief computer game designed to inoculate players against the effects of misinformation about COVID-19.

The researchers found that the prebunking game made participants significantly more likely to identify manipulative misinformation about the Coronavirus pandemic. These effects persisted a week after the intervention.

Tackling misinformation preemptively can be an effective technique to address falsehoods related to climate change and environmental policies.

Build perceptions of fairness and cooperation

Include citizens in the design of your environmental programme or policy.

When designing an environmental programme or policy, conduct research and public consultations to understand public concerns, resolve issues early on, and ensure public buy-in. This is particularly important when designing solutions that are novel and disruptive. It is important to ensure that citizens and businesses understand and are on board with the proposed changes.


Case Study
Understanding Citizens' Perceptions of Carbon Emissions Taxes

Taxes on carbon emissions are often perceived as unfair by members of the public, which makes voters less likely to support this and other policy measures designed to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change.

A recent survey conducted in the United States identified multiple reasons for why people view these taxes as unfair: gas prices are already perceived to be high; many people need to drive and therefore must use gas; taxes are perceived as unfairly burdensome for poorer households; lack of trust in government; and lack of understanding of the need for a carbon tax.

Policymakers should be aware of these perceptions when implementing disincentives to reduce emissions.

Choose a good messenger

Identify individuals and roles that are respected by your target group and engage these figures in promoting the desired energy-efficient behaviour.

Calling on respected figures to voice their support for a policy can build trust and compliance with the given policy. This might entail recruiting experts in the field, community leaders, and other trusted individuals to endorse the policy or programme.

Effective messengers can bolster people's engagement in the target policy or programme.


Case Study
Community Leaders Mobilise Pro-Environmental Action

A 2014 study conducted in New England showed how local community leaders affect the implementation of climate adaptation policy in their town.

The local leaders came from diverse roles and domains, including town and city planners, members of NGOs, town administrators, and community development directors who were personally concerned about climate preparedness. After educating themselves about the issue, in large part from free available online resources, the leaders organised lectures, public forums and town meetings to discuss climate preparedness in their community and build public support for implementing the state’s directives on climate preparedness.

Based on the study’s findings, the local community leaders were able to make at least two significant contributions: they helped mobilise the public around the issue of climate preparedness and they also put pressure on local administration to create local climate adaptation plans.

Understand how status quo bias might limit the public initial acceptance

Individuals might initially oppose new environmental regulations or programmes; however, evidence suggests that in some cases, an originally unpopular policy might be seen as publicly desirable after it has been implemented.

After implementation, people accept the new policy or programme as the new status quo, which in turn shifts their views in favour of the solution. Understand people's tendency to oppose change and have realistic expectations about how a new programme will initially be perceived.

You should factor in this status quo bias when conducting public consultations and research prior to the policy rollout. Continuously monitor public attitudes towards the new programme or policy to understand the role of status quo bias in your specific case. If acceptance remains low, try to modify the regulations to gain increased public support.


Case Study
Congestion Charges Gain Support Over Time

The U.K. London Congestion Charge was introduced to discourage traffic within certain areas of the city during peak travel hours.

Before coming into effect, this policy was met with significant public opposition. However, after the Congestion Charge was initiated, public opinion shifted significantly (approximately a 15 percentage point increase) to support the policy.

People often do not support a policy when it is initially proposed as a result of status quo bias and anticipated losses but public opinion can shift after the policy comes into effect.