Address Knowledge and Ability Gaps

Sometimes, people might simply lack the knowledge, skill, or ability to engage in the desired behaviour.

Explore behavioural techniques that can help you address such knowledge and ability gaps.

Make the provided information simple and brief

Design your communications around the assumption that most people are time-poor and have limited attention spans.

Make communications effective by:

  1. Being brief. Shorter communications have a higher chance of being read in full. They are also perceived as more credible and more memorable.
  2. Using lay language that can be easily understood by different audiences.
  3. Prioritising the most important content by creating a visual hierarchy.
  4. Using visual cues to help people navigate through written content when they are time-pressured.

Insights from another field
Using Straightforward Communication of Health Information

The Centers for Disease Control in the U.S. have committed to using clear communication strategies when conveying critical information about people's health.

Recognizing the need for effective, easily understandable communication strategies when disseminating vital health information, the CDC focuses on using plain language that is digestible and easily understood by a wide audience.

For example, the organisation has committed to using short sentences and avoiding jargon. Training staff to follow these guidelines supports public understanding of important health-related material.

Simplify the target behaviour

Reduce the number of steps that individuals need to follow in order to engage in the desired behaviour.

Simplifying processes can dramatically improve the effectiveness of your programme or policy. Complex processes can be simplified by:

  1. Limiting the number of documents, tools or actions required to engage in the behaviour for the first time.
  2. Decreasing the difficulty of the target behaviour itself.
  3. Breaking up long sign-up processes into a set of manageable steps.
  4. Providing citizens with regular feedback on their progress and managing their expectations.

Insights from another field
Weekly Reminders Can Increase University Financial Aid Application Completion

Applying for financial aid to support university attendance in the U.S. is often perceived as a challenging task, and as a result, many students do not take advantage of opportunities for government-offered financial support.

Arizona State University's Financial Aid office sent weekly reminders to returning undergraduate students for the eight weeks prior to the financial aid application deadline. These emails emphasised the importance of submitting the necessary paperwork prior to the deadline, encouraged students to speak with their parents about getting the necessary information, and used graphics to emphasise the simplicity of the application process.

Among families where both the student and the parents received these redesigned emails, 50% completed the financial aid application before the deadline, compared to 29% of those who only received the standard reminder email.

Clearly and regularly communicating what is required in an application process can significantly boost application completion.

Offer easy and inclusive substitutes

If certain individuals cannot engage in the target energy-efficient behaviour, provide them with substitutes that meet their needs and capabilities.

When this is the case, it may be easier to substitute one behaviour for another rather than attempting to remove these barriers. Consider what preferable alternative behaviours may be and then provide information on and opportunities for these alternative behaviours.


Case Study
Making Carbon Offsets Convenient Can Increase Purchases

Although purchasing carbon offsets is a contested topic, it offers a feasible alternative to people who lack the ability or willpower to avoid high-impact behaviours, such as air and car travel. Third-party verified carbon credits are becoming widely available, yet relatively a small number of individuals and organisations purchase them.

For example, a recent study in the US found that even among environmentally-concerned individuals, only 1 of 10 have purchased carbon offsets.

Offering a convenient, although inferior, alternative to avoiding high-impact behaviours, such as helping people to offset their emissions, might be a necessary component to reach national emissions targets in the coming years.

Foster peer groups

Connect individuals who are likely to engage in the target behaviour together and facilitate information exchange via these groups.

To do this, identify group topics and traits that individuals may group themselves around. Then, provide outlets for your target audience to gather in these peer groups and use these groups to encourage the goal behaviour. Peer groups allow members to exchange information, provide emotional support (e.g., encouragements) and practical support (e.g., buddying-up to engage in the energy-efficient behaviour together). They can also promote behaviour change by validating new behaviours and establishing new social norms within the group.


Case Study
Using Social Connections Among Neighbours to Increase Green Behaviours

A study conducted in the U.S. assessed the relationship between social connections and pro-environmental norms. It was observed that neighbours had a significant effect on engagement in community pro-environmental behaviours, such as recycling.

In addition, the researchers observed that individuals with 'green family profiles' were more likely to engage in pro-environmental or community-serving behaviours than those who did not come from 'green' families.

Capitalising on people's social connections and influences can be an important tool for policymakers aiming to increase sustainable behaviours.

Enhance citizens' self-efficacy

Motivate citizens to perform a behaviour by enhancing their feelings of being capable of executing the target behaviour.

There are different approaches that can be used to enhance a person's self-efficacy:

  1. Remind them about similar challenges 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 them.

Bolstering citizens' perceived self-efficacy can increase their engagement in new, desirable behaviours.


Case Study
Self-Efficacy Impacts Sustainable Purchasing Decisions

A 2010 study conducted in Norway evaluated the impact of perceived self-efficacy on people's sustainable purchasing intentions.

The researchers observed that when people believed it was in their power to influence others' purchasing decisions, this was the strongest predictor of sustainable consumptive behaviour in the participants themselves.

Bolstering individuals' sense of self-efficacy can be an effective tool for encouraging people to engage in sustainable behaviours.