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The power of behaviour change lies in the basics

‘Only with robust benchmarking can we address specific behaviour and make the right interventions to nudge the change’ 

Caroline Burtt

By Caroline Burtt, Associate Director, GCI Health

Long before ‘nudge theory’ hit the headlines with a Nobel prize win in 2017, we in healthcare had been harnessing behaviour change models to make a positive difference to the health of the population at large. As the industry develops more innovative campaigns to reach target audiences and change behaviour, it is imperative that we understand – from the beginning – how to measure our current impact so that we can ultimately evolve it.

In health communications, there are a number of fundamentals we need to better focus on in order to encourage and motivate stakeholders through their personal, positive behaviour change journeys.

Benchmark. Always.

All healthcare stakeholders are surrounded by incentives to behave rationally and in their best self-interest, from the way products are priced and packaged to how information is communicated. However, most of these incentives assume that all stakeholders are rational, 100% of the time.

When it comes to human behaviour, instinctive and irrational behaviour are simply part of the journey. For this reason, no campaign, ever, should be started without benchmarking. Only with robust benchmarking can we plan the very specific behaviour that needs to be addressed and the right interventions to nudge the change.

Benchmarking requires upfront investment but there are plenty of simple, cost-effective ways to capture the needed insight.

Know the indicators

At GCI Health, we attempt to only create and deliver communications campaigns capable of true behaviour change; however despite the ambition, it’s not always possible. Cross- functional resource availability, impacting environmental factors and the sometimes limiting need to work to 12-month cycles mean that behaviour change indicators play a critical role in understanding our impact too. Additionally, many of the briefs we receive rarely mention behaviour change and its measurement as a goal, vs high impact awareness. The investment in delivering and understanding real behaviour change still needs to be better incorporated industry-wide.

As an industry, we’re still too guilty of looking at awareness raising as an appropriate end-goal. Awareness raising is an important early component of behaviour change but exactly that – simply a beginning priority within the bigger picture (blanket media coverage and subsequent audience awareness measurement will always have its place!).

Indicators on the way to behaviour change can include awareness, attitude changes, ‘self-efficacy evolution’ (people’s belief that they have the ability to perform particular behaviours), and behavioural intentions. Every communications campaign must be clear on what it is setting out to influence.

Measure effectively

No matter whether the end or interim goal is behaviour change, or an indicator on the way to it, a specific measurement plan is needed to assess the impact of a communications programme:

  • Outputs (what is put out to target audiences)
  • Outtakes (what audiences do with the communication)
  • Outcomes (the effects the communications effort has on audiences).

While outcome measurement is the holy grail of behaviour change evidence, outtakes and outputs can let us know if we’re on the right track before we get there. True behaviour change takes time, often years, making interim outtake and output assessment even more critical.

The long game

If we want to truly change behaviour, we must accept we’re playing a long game. Effective behaviour change programming can, and ideally should, take years. This ensures that the change is supported for as long as needed for it to be sustainable. In the reality of annual budget cycles, we can all do more to support sustainable behaviour change, starting with securing internal cross-functional and senior buy-in.

Communications can be a central driver of significant health behaviour change outcomes. With the right fundamentals in place, starting with benchmarking, clear goals and effective measurement planning, we can understand and show our impact on a much greater scale. With this, we can better ensure that true behaviour change, vs only indicators of it, become the norm industry-wide.

In association with

GCI Health

21st November 2018

From: Marketing

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