Foster Positive Attitudes

Citizens might initially take a negative stance towards the new policy or programme. Explore how to foster positive attitudes.

Understand and segment your target audience

Carry out research to understand how people’s existing beliefs and attitudes affect public approval of your programme or policy and identify relevant subgroups within your target population.

Divide your target population into a number of segments based on their attitudes towards the policy (e.g., acceptant, hesitant, and resistant segments). Try to profile these segments in the highest detail possible (e.g., by mapping the sociodemographic characteristics and behavioural patterns of the different segments). A good quality segmentation will allow you to apply tailored approaches to the different population segments, increasing the likelihood of policy success.


Case Study
Segment Your Target Population When Designing Messages About Climate Change

A survey was conducted in the U.S. in 2008 to evaluate audience segments for targeted messaging about global warming.

The researchers identified six distinct segments, ranging from those who were highly concerned about climate change and strongly approved policy measures to individuals who were completely unconcerned about global warming and opposed policy interventions.

Understanding the variance of attitudes and beliefs within a population can allow policymakers to develop effective interventions.

Highlight the positive behaviour of the majority

If a significant proportion of the target population is already engaging in the target behaviour, highlight this fact in your communications to further foster public acceptance of your programme or policy.

Making desired attitudes and behaviours more publicly visible and informing individuals about what most other people do or believe can be a powerful lever for behaviour change. People’s beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours are strongly influenced by those of others. We have a tendency to comply with the social norm; however, we usually have limited and sometimes misleading knowledge about what others do or believe. Provide accurate information about the majority's behaviour (when applicable) to increase others' engagement with your policy or programme.


Case Study
Social Cues Boost Pro-Environmental Motivation Among University Students

A 2021 survey experiment found that the interest of university students in reducing personal carbon emissions was the highest when presented with a message that contained two elements: first, information indicating that 65% of other students at the given university have already taken steps to reduce their emissions; and second, a call to action message, which invited students to “work together” on the issue.

Although the study only measured people’s intentions to reduce their emissions as opposed to actual behaviour, the results demonstrate how social cues can change individuals' motivation to reduce their emissions.

Use influential figures to promote the policy

Identify individuals who are respected by your target group, and engage these figures in promoting the goal behaviour.

Engaging respected figures to voice their support for the policy can build increased trust and compliance with the given programme. First, identify individuals who are known and respected by your target audience. Then, develop outlets for these figures to voice visible support for your policy or programme. This can entice citizens and businesses who may be initially reluctant to participate.


Case Study
In-Group Political Messengers Promote Carbon Tax Policy Support

A large-scale 2019 experiment showed that people are more likely to support a carbon tax policy and engage in policy-supportive behaviour when the policy has been endorsed in the media by a same-party political member (i.e., a Republican for Republican participants and a Democrat for Democratic participants, respectively), in contrast to introducing the policy by an opposing party member.

When promoting the need to reduce emissions, the communicator of the message often plays a stronger role than the message itself.

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.

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. We recommend the guidance below if you want to learn more about pre-bunking and de-bunking.


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.

Highlight the benefits of the programme or policy that will resonate with the target group

Conduct research to understand what will motivate different population segments to adopt the target behaviour across and appeal to those motives. Then, frame your intervention around the respective benefits. This will support citizens and businesses in recognizing the personal benefits of the policy or programme.


Case Study
Using Varying Messaging Techniques for Different Population Segments to Encourage Participation in a Coastal Cleanup

A 2017 experiment evaluated the effectiveness of communications that invited individuals to participate in a coastal clean-up event.

Two different messages were tested. One highlighted the personal benefits associated with taking part in the event (e.g., receiving free lunch and a $25 gift card), while the second appealed to the pro-environmental benefits associated with participation (e.g., reducing environmental pollution and healing the bay).

Whereas appealing to personal and environmental motives led to an equal number of sign-ups among environmentally-concerned individuals, highlighting personal benefits was a much more effective strategy for individuals with low environmental concern.

Leverage citizens’ tendency to act consistently with their past behaviours

Link the target behaviour to a similar behaviour that citizens or businesses have performed in the past.

When encouraging people to take up a new behaviour (e.g., insulating homes, purchasing electric vehicles or using public transport), draw attention to similar behaviours they have performed in the past. This can encourage citizens and businesses to behave consistently with their previous actions.


Case Study
Linking Identity, Past Behaviours, and Pro-Environmental Action

A 2013 investigation examined the role of values and identity on pro-environmental behaviours.

The researchers noted that biospheric values--in other words, valuing nature and the health of the planet--as well as past pro-environmental activity influenced participants' pro-environmental identities, which in turn predicted future pro-environmental behaviours.

Reminding people of their past actions can encourage ongoing sustainable activity, as it encourages individuals to maintain consistency within their sense of self.