We all harbor assumptions, that people lack motivation, incentive, and desire to take positive actions for our planet. We tend to think in terms of “drivers” and “levers” when it comes to changing people’s actions. We seek to measure attitudes, all the while ignoring what we have learned about the profound influence of social and cultural contexts on our feelings, thoughts, and actions.
Despite our best efforts, our assumptions about behavior influence our campaigns, research projects, messaging, branding, and engagement strategies. Whether we are launching an information-heavy campaign or designing games to stimulate and activate, many of us assume that:
- People will not normally choose to shift to a radically new way of living within our ecological systems.
- People are consciously aware of their thoughts and feelings about complicated topics (which impacts the results of most polls, surveys and interviews).
- We are able to capture these thoughts and feelings accurately in a simple way rather than doing the in-depth work of listening, conversing, and inquiring.
- We need to rely on tricks and rewards to incentivize change. (Some of us even feel that deep down, humans are short-sighted and incapable of turning this ship around.)
What if these are understandable assumptions, but are in fact fictions? What if the story looks more like this:
- People are often overwhelmed by the complexity and scale of ecological threats – including climate change, energy transitions and consumption.
- How people engage and respond to these issues is not a direct measure of their care or concern, but rather self-protection mechanisms.
- Providing “little steps” can backfire and erode credibility, when people can see the scale and magnitude of our challenges.
- Establishing authentic connection and engagement with stakeholders requires a new level of honesty, compassion and a vulnerability in our communications, outreach and credibility.
- Such connection and engagement requires access to accurate insight and understanding of our stakeholders – which is not provided by polls, surveys or quick interviews and focus groups.
This is about a new way of engaging people. One that works with the tide, rather than trying to push, pull, cajole, trick or nudge people into action.