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IIEX Behaviour UK: The Power of Context

02.12.2019

This November, the IIEX Behavioural conference was held at the Pullman London St. Pancras Hotel. Being right in the heart of London, this conference was a perfect opportunity for Emma Neville, Rhiannon Phillips and Katy Irving from our behavioural science unit HRW Shift, to get the latest updates from our colleagues in the world of consumer behaviour.

This 2019 agenda saw a collection of presentations from behavioural consultants and their clients presenting novel applications of behavioural science and how they have driven better outcomes for their businesses. Although consumer research is a different world to the healthcare research we specialise in, events like this are a goldmine of inspiration for new methodologies, examples and case studies. In particular, the talks provided some fresh and creative uses of the ‘nudges’ (indirect routes and strategies to change behaviour) that we regularly recommend to clients.

One behavioural issue we see creating problems for our clients is the gap between what we say we would like to do, and what we actually do (the intention-action gap). Typically, the gap between intentions and actions is filled by the infamously hard-to-capture context of our complicated lives. The power of context was a prominent theme of IIEX this year, with a stand-out case study from Katie Hollier from weseethrough on the power of in-home ethnography to pinpoint the difference between the world we idealise when we set intentions, and the reality of our homes, familial relationships and busy schedules. We have drawn on similar learnings at HRW in creating our adapted ethnography tool for clients who need to balance the importance of context with tight time frames, shrinking budgets and focussed objectives. The adapted ethnography tool provides us with rich insights accessing the reality of our respondents’ lives in a way that meets our clients’ internal demands and practical constraints.

Another behavioural strategy we often recommend to clients is to leverage the power of concreteness effects. Concreteness effects are a set of cognitive principles that show how concrete ideas are more effectively processed and encoded into memory than abstract ones. Hannah Moffat from Schwa beautifully demonstrated how these behavioural phenomena made the difference for environmental campaigns aimed at reducing single-use plastics as compared to environmental campaigns to reduce carbon emissions. Single-use plastics are campaign targets we can physically hold and see. By contrast, the concept of carbon emissions is frustratingly abstract. The concreteness of single-use plastics improves the impact of environmental messages and increases the chances that these messages will be remembered. This case study also nicely demonstrated the ‘identifiable victim effect’: the sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nostril gives a concrete face to an otherwise very ambiguous set of victims.

Social expectations are also a powerful piece of context that drive our behaviour. Crawford Hollingworth, founder of the Behavioural Architects, delivered the perfect example of this in his talk on the use of behavioural science to spark a revolution in oral healthcare. To generate public discourse and awareness around gum health, the Behavioural Architects found a way to leverage the power of both concreteness and social norms in a campaign asking the public ‘what is your gum age?’. It certainly had an impact on us, as we are still wondering about our gum ages over a week later…

Overall, the IIEX Behaviour conference was an enlightening day, supplying plenty of fresh applications of our favourite themes and inspiring stories of the success of applied behavioural science.

To find out more, contact us.

By Emma Neville

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