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Case Study: How to get people to separate their organic waste?

By | All, Citizen Behaviour, Susatinability

In this guest blog, Behavioural Designer Ron Ghijssen, founder of ANDC Design shares a fascinating and very well executed intervention strategy he worked on in the Dutch City of Amersfoort. The target of the intervention was to get people to start separating their organic waste. The case demonstrates of the power of behavioural design thinking combined with creativity for designing sustainable behavioural change.

 

Design for Sustainable Change

The problem with separating organic waste

There is no such thing as organic waste*. As citizens, we have to consider organic waste a valuable resource. More and more public and private organizations in the Netherlands (and all over the world) carry out this message. A critical condition for organic waste getting a new, meaningful destination is that citizens separate their waste.

*Organic waste is any material that comes from a plant or animal and is biodegradable. For example leftover food, coffee grounds, apple cores, egg shells and other kinds of food byproducts. But also cut flowers, plants and pet food are welcome in the green wheelie bin.

Very often, when it comes to ‘green topics’ like this, a successful outcome depends on human behaviour. But how do you (as a government or a more decentralized municipality) stimulate citizens to separate their organic waste? What is the central message that you want to communicate? And how do you reach your target group? What are the interventions that put citizens into action? Let me tell you how we did this in Amersfoort (a municipality in the province of Utrecht with more than 150.000 inhabitants).

Amersfoort asked research agency Dijksterhuis & van Baaren and creative agency ANDC (the agency I work for) to develop a public campaign to stimulate citizens to separate their organic waste. In this way, the share of organic waste in the residual household waste can be reduced, and the organic waste can be used to produce compost and biogas.

Also, Amersfoort recently implemented the system of ‘reversed waste collection’. What this implies is that the municipality doesn’t collect residual household waste at home anymore, but citizens have to bring it to underground containers in their neighbourhood. This leads to reactance (people have a natural need for autonomy and don’t want things to be imposed). Consequently, the less residual household waste people produce every week, the less physical effort is weekly needed. So there is also a direct personal advantage for citizens of Amersfoort in lowering the amount of organic waste in household waste.

The Human Insight

The research phase (i.a. questioning a group of citizens of Amersfoort) led to several exciting insights which formed the base for the campaign strategy. The core of this strategy contained two central elements:

  • Emphasize separating organic waste is normal; it’s a common thing
  • Facilitate citizens in separating organic waste

With this strategy as an essential guideline, we focused a bit more on insights from the research phase. It triggered us that the majority of citizens consider separating waste as an annoying task because it implies effort (this applies not only to people in Amersfoort, former research shows that this applies to the majority of people in the Netherlands). 

And you know what? People are right. It’s so much easier to throw the organic waste in the ‘normal’ household trash can. For separating organic waste the right and efficient way, you need a small organic waste bin that you can place on the kitchen countertop (which people often regard as a stand in the way). People who are motivated to separate organic waste have this kind of bin. But the majority isn’t motivated enough to buy such a bin and place it consequently on their kitchen countertop. So despite the good intentions people have (which they overall really have), these elements form significant barriers to separate organic waste for most people.

 

The solution: Reframe the Organic Waste Bin

Wat is jouw Bakkie?We felt we were on the right track with the ‘bin issue’. By discussing this issue more deeply in brainstorms, by physically analyzing our own kitchens and by adding some common sense (where would you be without), we concluded that every kitchen has só many potential organic waste ‘bins’: a pot used during cooking, an empty little mushroom box, an empty salad bowl. In other words, simply every kitchen object where you can put organic waste in will do (I don’t recommend using a little girl’s lunchbox, my daughter didn’t appreciate it).

So we realized that asking ‘Do you have a little bin?’ wasn’t the right question. The right question was: ‘What’s your little bin?’ (in Dutch: ‘Wat is jouw bakkie?’)

 

Behavioural Design In Action

Bakkie CampaignThis question reframes almost every cooking object in a little organic waste bin. And it contains a facilitating message to all citizens. After all, suddenly, they see little waste bins all around them in their kitchen. And the best part is: people have freedom of choice and can pick the one they find most suitable. So we just helped people make the first step in desired behaviour by making it easy. Where’s that resistance now?

Another great advantage of this message is that people are being facilitated by this question instead of investing in tangible physical goods. After all, there was no budget to give all citizens their little bin. But why should you, when everyone has more than enough by themselves? So there was no needless time and money wasted (sorry) for getting everyone a particular organic waste bin.

Finally, the question also contains the desired social norm we wanted the campaign to express: everyone has a little bin, what’s yours? 

Campaign Execution

Furthermore, we designed and developed several interventions to stimulate the desired behaviour to reach the target group. We created visuals for an Amersfoort wide (poster) campaign. We asked citizens of Amersfoort to be our ‘models’ because we wanted the question (What’s your little bin?) the target group to ask the question themselves. 

Also, we designed a so-called ‘wheelie bin bingo’. All citizens of Amersfoort with a green wheelie bin (for organic waste) received a brochure in their postbox. This brochure contained, amongst other things, information about the importance of separating waste and tips & tricks regarding the right way to do it. But it also included a sticker upon which people had to write down their house number. By pasting their sticker on their green wheelie bin, all citizens were automatically enrolled in the periodic ‘green wheelie bingo’ (having a chance to win modest but fabulous prizes).

Again, the stickers carry out the social norm when visible on the sidewalks and serve as prompts or reminders for the desired behaviour.

The campaign launched in May 2021, and the city council will monitor the results through an annual analysis of the share of organic waste in residual household waste. One of the most critical desired outcomes is a significant decrease of the organic part in household waste. We hope that our combination of behavioural design and creativity will contribute to this vital goal.

I hope the case of Amersfoort showed you how using insights from solid research, selecting the correct behavioural design principles and techniques ánd adding some creativity can lead to a positive, appealing and hopefully effective campaign.

 

Ron Ghijssen is a SUE Behavioural Design Academy alumnus. He is the founder of  creative agency ANDC. As a behavioural designer, he applies behavioural design principles and techniques to societal challenges.

 

 

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Nudging explained

By | Behavioural Science

Excerpt: In this post, we will highlight the main concepts from the work of Nobel prize winner Richard Thaler as explained in his bestselling book ‘Nudge.’ We will explain what nudging is all about, how it related to behavioural economics and how you can use it to influence people and help them make better choices.

 

Nudging means

The term nudging seems to be popping up everywhere nowadays. People are being nudged, nudge units are set-up within governments, and nudging in marketing seems to pick up in popularity. But what is nudging all about? What does nudging mean? And from which underlying science does it derive? And especially how does it help people make better choices? Questions that will all be answered in this article. To make your reading life easier, we’ve divided the article into several subsections, which you can jump to easily:

Nudging Theory and Behavioural Economics
Making choices: Choice architecture
Making better and healthy choices
Recap

Nudging theory and Behavioural Economics

Nudging comes from the field of behavioural economics. Although behavioural economics is a science that is studied for almost forty years, it was the book ‘Nudge’ written by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein in 2008 that put nudging on the map. In Nudge, Thaler and Sunstein propose us a new take on decision making, one that takes our humanness and all the inconsistent decisions we make as a given.

nudging

Behavioural economists, as opposed to traditional economists, take human irrationality as a starting point. The basic assumptions of behavioural economics are that people are making choices with:

  • Limited rationality
  • Limited willpower
  • Bounded self-interest

Traditional economics vs. behavioural economics

Whereas traditional economics see people as rational beings, who make decisions and do cost/benefit analyses to make a choice that is always in their best interest not letting their emotions cloud their judgments, and always thinking about the future. Behavioural economists overthrow this, as it doesn’t fit the actual behaviour of people. You see people choose mortgages they shouldn’t be taking. You see people overspent on their credit cards. There are stock bubbles. Where’s the rationality in that? We are humans whose decisions are driven by cognitive bias and sub-conscious mental shortcuts, as we explain in this post on Daniel Kahneman whose research laid the foundation of all behavioural economics.

In the book ‘Nudge’ is also explained that being human, we all are susceptible to various biases that can lead us to blunder. Our mistakes make us poorer and less healthy; we often make bad decisions involving education, personal finance, health care, mortgages and credit cards, the family, and even the planet itself.

nudging

The main concept of the book is that if you know how people think, you can design choice environments that make it easier for people to choose what is best for themselves, their families, and their society. It’s all about choice architecture. An important concept that we’ll explain in the next paragraph.

But before we dive deeper into choice architecture, it’s good to know that there lies a very important concept underneath the nudging theory. A concept introduced in the book called Libertarian Paternalism.

  • Libertarian = An individual’s right to choose
  • Paternalism = Do what you can do to improve the welfare of people. Point people in the right direction.

Definition of a nudge

The idea is to apply the techniques of the psychology of decision making and behavioural economics to improve decisions without limited choices. Or easier put, help people make better choices for themselves without restricting their freedom of choice. But by nudging them. Which brings us to the definition of a nudge. As Thaler describes it himself a nudge is any small feature in the environment that attracts our attention and alters our behaviour.

You can nudge for good, or you can nudge for evil. Their book strongly focuses on the first, as the subtitle of their book states: improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. And we as a company take a positive take on behavioural psychology ourselves as we strongly live by our mission to unlock the power of behavioural psychology to nudge people into making positive choices in work, life, and play. But how do you achieve this goal? That’s what the next section is all about: how to help people make better and healthy choices.

Making choices: choice architecture

If you want to help people making better decisions, you can achieve this with better choice architecture. But what is a choice architecture? Anyone who designs the environment in which people make choices is a choice architect. There’s choice architecture all around you. Think about menus, curriculums, or store layouts that decide how you walk inside a store (you probably all have been in an Ikea once, there it’s obvious how choice architects have designed the way you cruise the Scandinavian furniture epicenter).

A choice architect makes choices about how to present information or an environment for you.  Although nudging is all about maintaining people’s freedom of choice, choice architecture isn’t neutral. You can compare it to regular architecture; it’s not possible to design regular neutral architecture. Think about the design of the building you’re probably in right now: it’s not possible to have designed that building completely neutral. It had to have doors, stairs, etc.

Choice architecture is not neutral

The same goes for choice architecture, it affects how people make choices, and you have to make a choice yourself on how you present a choice. Richard Thaler often refers to the example of cafeteria meal planning. They found out that the way food was presented to kids in a school cafeteria effected what they would eat for lunch. The first choice presented to them was the prevalent choice. Someone responsible for the cafeteria then has several options:

  • Put the healthy options first, to promote more healthy eating behaviour
  • Start with the unhealthy options, to make kids more fat (could be he/she has a chubby kid and wants other kids to gain weight too, to stop the bullying)
  • Go for the most profitable as first option, to make the finance director happy
  • Present the food randomly, which is also a choice (confusing, but a choice)

The point is: you always have to make a choice. Choice architecture is not neutral. But some designs are better than others. Why not do it in a way that makes people feel better? That’s what nudging is all about, and which is the theme of the book ‘Nudge’ to help people towards making better choices.

Making better and healthy choices

In the book ‘Nudge’ they explain six principles of good choice architecture that will help people make better and healthy choices:

  • Incentives

    People make better decisions if you provide the right people with the right incentives. This goes beyond monetary and material incentives, but also includes psychological benefits (eg peace of mind).

  • Understand mappings

    A warm plea is made for more disclosure to help people make better decisions. In the book referred to as RECAP: Record, Evaluate, and Compare Alternative Prices. Make it easier for customers to compare what they are truly paying for, and ensure that all hidden fees are exposed.

  • Defaults

    Defaults what happens if we do nothing. Think about your screensaver. Even if you do nothing it will activate. Defaults are sticky, as inertia rules in all humans. We tend to stick to the automatic choice that’s made for us. We for example hardly ever change factory settings on our phone. In Nudge an example is given about joining a retirement savings plan. If the default is to join, most people do join. If you have to actively choose to join only 30% does so.

  • Give feedback

    A good way to help humans improve their decision making is to provide feedback. A good example is the Ambient Orb as developed by Clive Thompson that helped people save energy. Electricity isn’t visible, the ambient orb gives feedback on how well you’re doing by changing colour. Another example of giving feedback is paint that is pink when you apply it, but turns white within an hour. People often paint white ceilings white again, and it’s hard to see if you missed a spot. By making the paint pink, it gives you immediate feedback on what is left to paint.

ambient orb

nudging ambient orb

nudging paint

Magic white paint

  • Expect error

    Expect people to make mistakes and design for it. A very good example of libertarian paternalism that actually saves lives are the ‘look right’ signs in London streets. You can still watch the wrong way, but you’re directed to look the right way.

look right London

nudging look right

  • Structure complex choices
    When there’s an overload on choice, people tend to find ways to simplify them and break them down. Good choice architecture will find ways to make this more evident for people. An example cited was the choice of paint. Instead of using words like “Roasted Sesame Seed” or “Kansas Grain,” consider arranging similar colour themes next to each other. This could help people to choose the right shades and hues.

Recap

You could recap the Nudge theory like this:

  1. Humans are imperfect we can use all the help we can get
  2. It’s possible to improve choices without restricting options
  3. Don’t use bans and mandates, just nudge.

If you want to hear Richard Thaler explain the basic concept of nudging himself, take a look at this video. It’s 18 minutes.

Would you like to learn more?

If you want to master the science of influence yourself, you could consider enrolling in our two-day course Behavioural Design at our SUE | Behavioural Design Academy. You can download the Academy brochure. Or maybe you currently have a challenge in which you want to influence choice or change behaviour. Please, take a look at our Behavioural Design Sprint. It might be the answer you’re looking for.

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Chief Behavioural Officer: It’s the new ‘must-have’ role

By | All, Behaviour in Organisations, Customer Behaviour

Step by step, behavioural economics, and psychological science have expanded their reach to become an established part of the business, policymaking, and regulation – for anyone seriously interested in both understanding and changing behaviour. And within marketing and market research, behavioural economics has become a required area of expertise and competency. We are now witnessing the next big step – the creation of the role of the Chief Behavioural Officer (CBO). This move will ensure that behavioural science has a voice at the highest level inside companies and institutions, a clear demonstration of the impact and value it is generating.

In this article, we look at how, within the last decade, this has become the new reality. We identify two main drivers and examine how behavioural science is increasingly being factored into everyday business, policy decisions, and common practice. First, though, we take a closer look at the trend of the CBO role and in-house behavioural insight teams.

Read the whole article

Author: Crawford Hollingworth
Published by: The Marketing Society UK
Date: 1 December 2014

 

Cover image by Thomas Angermann under Creative Commons License.

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How to win wars by influencing people’s behaviour

By | All, Government & Politics

When terrorism is staged for YouTube, and all sides are media-savvy, the military is turning to the behavioural sciences for help. In 1955 Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who led the project that developed the first atomic bomb, addressed the American Psychological Association. He warned that both physics and psychology could endanger humanity but that psychology “opens up the most terrifying prospects of controlling what people do and how they think.” Despite Oppenheimer’s warning, the idea that you could change human behaviour to win a war, rather than winning a war to change human behaviour, languished as an also-ran in the cold war arms race. But as information technology has begun to globalize and behavioural science has entered the mainstream, there is an increasing move to put psychology at the center of military operations.

Read the whole article

Author: Vaughan Bell
Published in: The Guardian
Publishing date: 16 March 2014

Cover image by DVIDSHUB under Creative Commons License.

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Master the method and tools to change behaviour in our two-day masterclasses at the Behavioural Design Academy.
Create, prototype and test your marketing challenges in 5 days with SUE’s Behavioural Design Sprints.
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