Encouraging Behaviour Change – It Takes Time

“Preparation, patience and a willingness to play the long game.”

These were some of the insights shared by Lisa Cohen, National Programme Manager of Scottish mental health programme See Me at a recent seminar I attended in Wellington, New Zealand.

Many of the factors she raised that contribute to and hinder the success of social marketing programmes are the same ones we’ve been thinking about at New Zealand’s Social Marketing Network. In particular, we’ve been examining the challenges faced by two distinct groups – practitioners (the ones designing and conducting social marketing programmes) and authorisers (the ministers, managers or chief executives who create the budget parameters, time frames and programme boundaries).

Some of these are worth giving a wider airing.  Combining some of Lisa’s lessons with discussions we’ve been having on this same topic in New Zealand, here are four factors that contribute to the environments for creating real and sustained social change.

1.       Programmes, not campaigns.

Social problems require a systematic response, and social marketing, in its true sense, requires a programme approach.  Too often, we hear talk of “social marketing campaigns” – generally one-off or single-layer interventions that are often advertising based.  But while advertising campaigns can be powerful, on their own they rarely change behaviour, and do not actually constitute social marketing.

“A ‘campaign’ may be a part of a social marketing programme, but it’s crucial to think about the programme as a whole” – Lisa Cohen.

The challenge here for social marketers is that an advertising campaign is something you can outsource; it’s finite, tangible, and easy to measure.  Programme authorisers often ask for the campaign, without also demanding the rigour of a broader programme.

The trouble is, there’s not much sizzle in an integrated programme.  They have less well-defined boundaries, tend to be slower to build, and less glorious to trumpet.  But they also work better and in the long run can be more cost effective.  So our call to practitioner and authorising forces is to demand and invest in programmes, not just campaigns.

2.       Co-design, collaborate and engage (don’t preach).

Engage and involve the target audience in programme identification, design and implementation as much, and as soon, as you can.  The sooner you do, the more you invest in meaningfully gathering and implementing their input, the better the results in the long term.  In the Scottish See Me programme, it’s possible to see the strengthening of the programme (in terms of its reach and impact), the more they involved the voices of people with lived experience of mental illness in their programme planning.

Lisa Cohen says it’s all about talking to people – reaching them one conversation at a time.

The requirement for practitioners is to identify communities early on and engage them meaningfully in programme design and development.  For programme authorisers this means giving your teams the time and space to do this respectfully and properly.

3.       Be specific about the change you want.

The See Me programme put real effort into clearly identifying the specific actions people could take to make a difference and targeted those actions to specific audiences.

In our rush to implement, we often to keep our programme goals vague and our calls to action general.  Being specific requires patience and a robust analysis (including audience research) to properly understand your programme goals and the behaviour you’re seeking.

To increase the likelihood of positive change occurring, practitioners and authorisers alike need to adopt the discipline of being very clear about exactly whose behaviour they want to change, and what they want them to do.

4.       Invest in the planning process.

Lisa said they were put in the difficult initial position of creating a campaign before they had a programme in place – “building the plane while we were flying it”.

While this is frustrating for practitioners it’s not the real problem.  The real problem is the potential financial and social costs of this ad-hoc, tactical approach to addressing social problems.  The costs include, at worst, creating a campaign that has negative impacts and causes unintentional harm.  Other risks include wasting public funding and depleting sector, stakeholder and public goodwill.

To successfully create positive social change will require a stronger and more robust authorising environment that understands the value of a programmatic approach and properly engaging with citizens.

It might take time but, to quote Sun Tzu, it’s the slow route to victory.

Behaviour Change Tips For Beginners

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to behaviour change. But that doesn’t mean encouraging people to adopt new behaviours has to be complicated or expensive. In some cases, simply altering the way in which options are presented can encourage people to make better choices.

This approach is called ‘choice architecture’ and is based on a deep understanding of how people think.  It can be a simple, cost-effective means of influencing people’s behaviour.

Choice architecture is great for dealing with simple behaviours. For example, Google uses choice architecture in its cafeteria to encourage staff to make healthier food choices.

But when it comes to more complex behaviours, choice architecture isn’t enough. People don’t make choices in a vacuum. In most cases there are other determinants of behaviour that need to be identified and addressed.

One of the better behaviour change frameworks I’ve seen is Susan Michie’s Behaviour Change Wheel.

The Behaviour Change Wheel

The Behaviour Change Wheel

The Behaviour Change Wheel highlights nine ‘intervention functions’ and seven ‘policy categories’ that can be applied to support the selected interventions. For more information you can read Understanding Society – How Do We Change Behaviour by the Ipsos Mori Social Research Institute.  It’s an excellent document and includes interviews with several leading thinkers in the field.

A Few Introductory Behaviour Change Tips

Although every behavioural challenge is different there are some tried and tested techniques that can improve the chances of designing and delivering a successful behavioural intervention.


Incentives are used in the commercial and public sectors to influence behaviour. They can be extrinsic or intrinsic.

Extrinsic incentives come from outside the person and comprise things like cash rewards, bonuses and subsidies. As an example, just a few weeks ago the British Medical Journal published a study that found financial incentives for smoking cessation in pregnancy could be quite effective.

But incentives need not be monetary. Finding opportunities to incorporate non-financial incentives (e.g. peer recognition) can also work.

Intrinsic incentives are psychological.  If you can structure a specific behaviour to make a person feel good about themselves they’re far more likely to adopt it. For many people, simply believing that they’re ‘doing the right thing’ can be enough.

So when looking to encourage a new behaviour it’s always worth thinking about how can you incentivise.

Of course the use of incentives  should be tailored to your specific audience. It can be easy to assume that people will respond in a certain way, but when it comes to what people value, the only real way to find out is to ask.

Motivation Cartoon

Reduce Barriers

Barriers are all those things that stop people from adopting a new behaviour. They take many forms but most are either structural or personal.

Personal barriers are often psychological and include things like habits, fears and beliefs. Because personal barriers are just that – personal, it’s important not to assume you know what they are.

Ask your target group what’s stopping them from changing their behaviour? You can use social research methods like focus groups, surveys or phone interviews or perhaps make use of social media to start a conversation.

Most importantly, listen.  Communication is a two-way process. Many campaigns fail because too much time is spent telling people what they should think or do, rather than asking how they can be helped to do it.

Structural barriers can also seem obvious, but even the most simple ones can be missed.

For example – anti-littering campaigns won’t work if you don’t provide enough bins for people to dispose of their rubbish. Nor will it help if the bins that are provided get put in the wrong places. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve walked along the street holding an empty coffee cup, muttering under my breath because I can’t find a bin.  Instead, all I see are signs reminding me not to litter or risk a fine.

Most people want to do the right thing so it’s important to remove the barriers that might prevent them from doing so.


Ineffectiveness of Info Only Campaigns

Not enough bins?


Personal Motivations

What moves and motivates your target audience?

People’s behaviour is influenced by a range of factors that may include:

  • Attitudes and beliefs
  • Likes and tastes
  • Pleasures and gratifications
  • Control and choice
  • Hopes and aspirations
  • Life stage

Building an understanding of what motivates your target group may help you to design a behaviour change approach that’s more likely to succeed.


Prompts are often used at the point of decision-making.  That might be a point in time, or a physical location.

Most people know that commercial marketers use prompts (e.g. special offer signage, point-of-sale displays) to encourage consumers to purchase a given product or service.  What’s less well known is that prompts are also used by social marketers to encourage positive individual and community outcomes.

The image below is an example of a visual prompt that was used as part of a week-long road safety campaign back in 2010. It was run by advocacy group Preventable, and the British Columbia Automobile Association.  You can read more about the project here.


Traffic Safety Council Vancouver

3D image of girl painted on road

What’s The Competition?

What other things compete for the time and attention of your audience?

Competition can be internal or external.  Internal competition might include psychological factors like pleasure, desire and fear. External competition includes wider influences that promote or reinforce alternative behaviours (e.g. social norms).

Remember – your message needs to cut through a lot of other noise.  Think about it.  How much information are you exposed to every day? Again, it’s very important to work with your target market to get a good understanding of what’s competing against the wanted behaviour.

For example, let’s say you want to encourage a group of young males to start drinking low-strength beer instead of full-strength beer. The competition will include things like the peer pressure felt to drink full-strength; and a perception that more low-strength beer needs to be consumed (and more money spent) to achieve the desired effect.

To succeed in eliciting the wanted behaviour you need to find ways to nullify competing factors.


Changing default choice settings can be an effective means of influencing people’s decision-making. Simply put, the default option is that option which people choose when they do nothing.

The manipulation of default settings to increase organ donation rates is a much heralded example of its effectiveness. In Germany people must opt-in to organ donation program.  The donor rate is only 12% of adults. But in Austria where the default option is to opt-out, 99% of adults are organ donors.


It’s been shown that people are more likely to try something new if it’s similar to what they’re already doing. The use of inhalers and nicotine gum as substitutes for cigarettes is an obvious example.

When seeking to discourage a specific behaviour think about what can be offered in its place.


If you can make the desired behaviour fun, easy and popular you increase the chances of it being adopted.

Of course, ‘fun’ speaks to motivation, and ‘ease’ speaks to barriers.  ‘Popularity’ may also increase the chances of word of mouth promotion, social sharing etc.

Cue this great example from The Fun Theory which I (and many others) have used numerous times over the years to illustrate how effective fun can be at modifying people’s behaviour.



If a person can monitor their performance towards a given goal they’re more likely to succeed.

That’s one reason there’s been an explosion in the design and use of health and fitness apps.

A good example is My Quit Buddy which allows people to personalise and monitor their own milestones and targets.

Of course self-monitoring tools don’t need to be high tech.  The very act of writing things down has been shown to reduce the likelihood of people repeating unwanted behaviours.

Error Proofing

Effective design can make it difficult for people to deviate from the desired behaviour by making it easier to avoid errors, or by making it impossible to make an error at all.

Error proofing is used just about everywhere, from rumble strips on our roads to safety switches in our fuse boxes. Alcohol ignition switches are another good example.  They’re used in several Australian jurisdictions to prevent convicted drunk drivers from re-offending.

Many of the best examples of error proofing are so well integrated into everyday life that their presence goes unnoticed.


Error Proofing - Rumble Strip

Rumble strips are an example of ‘error proofing.’


Simple, Concrete Actions

Make sure that your target group is provided with relevant and meaningful information.

And rather than talking about the problem in broad terms, provide discrete and simple actions that can be taken to overcome it.

A Few Final Thoughts

Behaviour change is achievable.

Sometimes it can be realised relatively quickly and easily with a little nudge, but in other cases it takes a more holistic approach over time.

Either way, being clear about the specific behaviour you want to change is critical.  Set SMART objectives. Measure outcomes.


If you’ve got questions about a particular behavioural issue you’re currently working on feel free to get in touch.  I’m always happy to talk.

How To Write A Simple Communication Plan

So you’ve just developed a new initiative, service or product that’s going to make a real change to the way your organisation goes about its business or deals with its customers.  But how do you tell all the people involved with your business – those that would be affected and those that could have an effect – about the change that’s about to happen?

What you need is a communication plan.  A communication plan need not be onerous.  It’s simply a matter of identifying what you need to say, who you need to say it to, and the most effective way to say it.  A lot of people are going to be interested in what you’re doing and you need to identify:

  1. Who they are
  2. What to tell them
  3. How to tell them
  4. Who is going to tell them
  5. When they are going to be told

The communication plan

Start with a brief, one sentence statement of what the change is, how it will help and who will benefit.  Literally 25 words or less.  Put it at the top of page one in italics, quotes, bolded, boxed or some other way to make it stand out.  This one sentence is your initiative’s raison d’être, and it will help you keep focused while you develop your plan.

Situation analysis

Next comes a brief story on what has brought about the change.  It might be the changing needs of a key target market, a new form of technology that can be applied to your business, or some other initiative that will fill a market niche you have identified.

Keep it brief and punchy, using active speech and plain English.  Try to keep it no longer than three paragraphs with no more than three sentences per paragraph – if it goes longer give it a hard editing and pare it back – and then put it under a heading like Situation analysis or Current situation.

Stakeholder analysis

Next step is to identify the people that need to know.  You already know who they are; it’s simply a matter of mapping all of your business’s stakeholders that will be affected or potentially have an effect.  Obviously customers, also employees, volunteers and contractors, perhaps suppliers, and maybe other businesses and service providers that refer people to you.  If your new product or service might have political implications, what about the local MP or even the state or federal cabinet minister with responsibility for the field in which you work?

Is there potential media interest in what you’re doing?  If so, the media should also be on your stakeholder list.  Bear in mind though, that the news media does not provide free advertising and once you’ve given the media the information you’ve no longer got control of the message.

If what you need to communicate has a potential bad news angle it might be best to communicate directly with the people that need to know first, and at the same time get ready for media enquiries rather than give the media the story and expect it to run your way.  The media is not necessarily your friend.

So what you’re looking for is all the people or groups that have a real or potential interest in – or an effect on – your service or product.  List your stakeholders in order of importance along with a short sentence of how they would potentially be affected by the changes, or how they could affect what you’re trying to achieve.  Remember there is no such thing as a ‘general public’.  Each of your ‘publics’, or stakeholders, are different so each will probably perceive your product or service differently.  Put your list into your communication plan under the heading of Stakeholder analysis.

Key messages

Now make a list of short, concise sentences that say the what, where, when, why, how and for whom of your product or service.  Refer back to your one sentence at the top of page one to keep you focused.  While you’re building your list keep referring back to your list of stakeholders and put yourself in their shoes.  This will help to ensure you have the answers to all of their potential questions.

Communication channels

Your next step is to identify the best way to tell each of your stakeholders what’s happening.  There’s no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ solution to communication.  Each stakeholder or group of stakeholders will have one or more preferred ways of receiving information and your challenge is to find the best and most effective method or methods.

The right channel could be anything from a simple letter to a mass media advertising campaign and might include newsletters (printed or email), your website, brochures, flyers and point-of-sale information, banners and posters, even press, journal, internet, radio or TV advertising, journal articles, maybe a media release to all media or just a call to the editor or a journalist at the local paper, or even setting up a Facebook page or Twitter account.

New media and ways of getting your message out are emerging all the time and each channel is worth investigating to see if it’s where your stakeholders will be seeking information.  Does your organisation have a call centre?  If so customers are likely to call with questions so consider a briefing for call centre staff and developing a Q&A so they can provide a simple answer to the most common questions.  You can use your key messages as a starting point for your Q&A.  If you have the names and addresses of your customers and other stakeholders then a personal letter is often a cheap and effective channel.  If necessary you can tailor individual letters to different stakeholder groups.

Communication matrix

Now you’ve come to the part where you can really start to simplify things, and one really useful way to do this is with a matrix.  Just list all of the channels available to you on one axis and all of your stakeholder groups on the other.  Then for each stakeholder tick the box for the channel or channels you have selected as the best option.  Here’s a simple example:

Personal Letter Newsletter Website Media Release Briefings Social Media
Customers  √  √      √
Employees    √
Volunteers  √  √
Contractors  √
Suppliers  √
Service Providers  √  √
MP’s  √      
Ministers  √      
Media        √  √

That’s it, you’re pretty much done.  All you’ve got to do now is assign tasks to the people who are going to help you, set deadlines and tick off each part of the plan as it’s completed.  One way to do that is to tabulate your plan, print it out and keep it on your desk or pinned to the wall.

Be sure to include the following:

Message:  What do we need to tell them?

Channel: How are we going to tell them?

People:  Who’s responsible for doing it?

Deadline:  By when does it need to happen?

And that’s your communication plan.  It’s simple, effective and should only take a few hours to complete.  It’s also there as a reminder in case anyone gets lost along the way.

And finally, remember that quite often plans don’t go according to plan and even the world’s best communication plan will still need tweaking and updating along the way.

Navigating Change in the Not for Profit Sector

The not for profit landscape is changing dramatically in Australia.  Be assured, it will not be the same in 10 years time, most likely five.  But are we ready?  Have we asked and answered the marketing questions we may need to survive?

Environmental change in the not for profit sector will see organisations reviewing and subsequently relying on effective and targeted marketing to adapt and respond to the new environment in which they are operating if they are to remain sustainable and relevant into the future.

The procurement of human services by governments is also changing.  There’s  a greater outsourcing of services to the non government sector.  We’re now in a competitive environment in which for-profits are emerging and pricing and client outcomes are key. This is creating a hybrid market economy, where on one hand we’re operating in a competitive environment and on the other there are increased bureaucratic, reporting and contract demands on what funding we get, and how we use it.

We have no choice but to be competitive and some of us need to change our charity mentality in this regard.

The economic environment and the response to debt and expenditure pressures by government will see an increased demand for human and social services. This at a time of budgetary restrictions on funding for social services.

We are all too aware of the changing demographics of our community. How will we provide effectively for our ageing population?

There is an increased focus on customers and customer outcomes, as there should be.  Ironically, this is being lead by the changes in how government provides its funding and procures services.

Irrespective, the customer will now have greater choice and control over how they use their money, which service provider they use and even what staff they will have in their home providing those services.

We will see people move between service providers.  The traditional service provider ‘specialist’ model will largely cease.

To meet these needs not for profits will either be large organisations, which have size and scale, or will be niche service providers. The ‘middle ground’, where you provide quite a few different services but to a limited customer base in each, is disappearing.

We need to ask some fundamental marketing questions. Do we know our ‘competition’?  Do we know our customers?  Have we got the right service mix?  Can we deliver on our service promise?  Have we got the right pricing structure?  Do people know who we are?  What is our reputation?  The list goes on.

For me, there are three key marketing lessons:

  1. Differentiate or die.
  2. The customer is key.
  3. Outcomes are pivotal.

Keep these points in mind, and navigating change in the non profit sector may be a little more manageable.

An Introduction to Behavioural Economics for Health

There’s no doubt that there’s been fervent interest in behavioural economics in the last couple of years among social marketing and policy practitioners. Both the UK and NSW Governments have developed insights teams dedicated to finding new ways to ‘nudge’ citizens to be healthier, greener and more civic-minded.  So how can behavioural economics help with program design and campaign development?

Social marketing is about changing behaviour – behaviour that is driven by rational and irrational desires.  The rational part of our decision-making process can be influenced by increasing knowledge (e.g. presenting the facts about skin cancer), increasing efficacy (e.g. healthy cooking classes or QUIT hotlines) and through legislation and subsidies (e.g. seat-belt laws, tobacco tax).

However, extensive academic research has found that people are often “predictably irrational”.  When making decisions we take mental short cuts.  We’re influenced by the desires and distractions of the moment. Knowing how people will behave irrationally can provide guidance on how interventions can be structured to influence healthy behaviours.

Below are three common decision errors, which have major implications for healthy behaviours:

Present bias

Present bias is the tendency to focus on the immediate benefits or costs of a situation and undervalue future consequences.  An example is postponing a session at the gym to watch TV; or undervaluing the long-term harms of tanning to look good now.

Researchers are now looking at a range of tools to help manage present bias.  These include offering small incentives immediately after a ‘desirable’ behaviour has been done. One example is a pilot scheme in the UK where mothers from disadvantaged neighborhoods are given food vouchers worth around A$340 if they breastfeed for the first six weeks of their child’s life.

Because the use of incentives is very effective at motivating one-time behaviours (e.g. getting a vaccination or attending a screening), it is now being evaluated as an effective motivator for habit formation (e.g. exercising everyday).

People who commit to making a change are more likely to do so.

The use of ‘contracts’ and commitment devices to pledge to a certain behaviour or goal are also very effective. These devices leverage the desire to be (or to appear) consistent with what we have committed to doing.  Once we have made a choice (e.g. pledge to give up drinking for a month or to run a marathon), we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressure to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision.

This is especially powerful when the pledge or commitment is made in public, such as social media, as people are pressured to be consistent with their earlier commitments.

Status quo bias

Status quo bias is the tendency to choose a ‘path of least resistance’ in our decision-making.  An example of this is in western European countries that have an ‘opt in’ policy for organ donation, that is, the default is non-participation, donation rates tend to be close to just 10%. In contrast, in countries with an ‘opt out’ policy, in which citizens are automatically enrolled as organ donors unless they actively choose to opt out, organ donation rates are typically 98%–99%.

It’s important to consider the ways in which choices or options for programs are structured. The choices which social marketers want people to choose, whether it’s to recycle or take the right medication, needs to be the choice which requires the least amount of cognitive energy to choose.

Loss aversion

Loss aversion is the tendency to put much greater weight on losses than gains. Studies have shown that a loss has roughly twice the disutility of an equivalent dollar gain. Knowing this decision bias can help frame messages and structure the way incentive programs work.

Be Mindful that . . .

While behavioural economics has the potential to make programs and policies more effective, as with any concept or intervention, there are limitations.  The tools presented by behavioural economists are part of a possible solution, and should not substitute for public policies, infrastructural projects, or programs that increase knowledge and efficacy.

We also need to consider the social determinants which affect health and the decisions people make, while looking to policies that will deal with the underlying contributors to poor health, such as poverty, inequity and illiteracy.

As described by Loewenstein and Ubel, behavioural economics should “complement, not substitute for, more substantive economic interventions.  If traditional economics suggests that we should have a larger price difference between sugar-free and sugared drinks, behavioural economics could suggest whether consumers would respond better to a subsidy on unsweetened drinks or a tax on sugary drinks.”


Disclaimer: Charissa has written this post as an independent contributor.  This post reflects only Charissa’s views and not those of her employer or clients.

Interested in learning more?  Dr Kevin Volpp, the Founding Director of the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioural Economics at the University of Pennsylvania will be the keynote speaker at the Incentivising a Healthier Australia Forum in  Sydney on Thursday 6 March 2014.  Or, you could always  Contact Us

Encouraging Voluntary Behaviours

Last week I came across this fundraising box at Subway.

The sign promised that in exchange for helping I would feel good.  My inner philanthropist thought why not!  So I donated the coin contents of my purse and instantly received a good, warm fuzzy feeling.  Given that before making my way to the counter I had no intention of making a donation anytime soon, this campaign demonstrates the power of an appropriate value proposition to encourage voluntary behaviour.

Exchange in social marketing is often non-monetary and typically involves something else the target audience wants for performing the behaviour; where the benefit is most often personal and psychological in nature, such as a good feeling, social recognition or praise.  People always want to know what’s in it for them.  Therefore appealing to an individual’s self-interest, through a direct and timely exchange, is in every social marketer’s best interest – particularly when encouraging voluntary behaviour change.

So how can you appeal to an individual’s self-interest?  One way is by increasing the perceived value of what they receive in return.  Social marketing programs should attempt to manage social issues by ensuring the benefits (or perceived benefits) outweigh the costs associated with the advocated change – increasing the likelihood of voluntary adoption.

Whilst the concept that giving to others can make you feel good about yourself is not revolutionary, it is often overlooked or forgotten; replaced with classic campaigns involving images of in-need individuals designed to elicit sadness and guilt.  The ACT for Kids’ feel-good campaign is a perfect example of where a direct and timely benefit is offered in exchange for a voluntary behaviour, in this case a donation.

Another great example of an effective self-interest value proposition is from Kotler and Lee’s text ‘Social Marketing: Influencing Behaviours for Good’ (3rd edition).  An environmental social marketing campaign, aimed at reducing pollution affecting an estuary famous for harvesting blue crabs, reframed the issue as a culinary, not an environmental, problem.  The appeal to the target audiences’ stomachs (self-interest) rather than their environmental consciousness (societal benefit), provided a direct and timely exchange for changing pollutant garden care behaviours to more environmentally friendly behaviours and, consequently, was more effective than previous initiatives to change behaviour.

Whist the underlying objective is distinguishable between social and commercial sector marketing, an understanding of exchange principles is fundamental to both.  Recycling may decrease pollution, reducing energy consumption may help the environment and giving up your leisure time to volunteer may help those in need.  But ultimately, everyone’s focus is on themselves, so providing a good answer to the question of ‘What’s in it for me?’ is extremely important to behaviour change campaign success.

Error Proofing for Drunk Drivers

The WA government’s new plans to enforce the installation of breath test immobilisers to the cars of drunk drivers is a good example of behavioural design in action.

WA Today reported that the proposed scheme will apply to those caught driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or above and 0.05 or above for the second time.

Once the immobiliser has been installed, the car will only start if a person has a blood alcohol limit below 0.02, reportedly to allow a margin of error for medications etc.

The story caught our attention because it’s a great example of error proofing.

As the name suggests, error proofing may make it easier for people to avoid errors or (as in this case) make it impossible for them to make an error at all.

Error proofing is much like  ‘mistake proofing’ – a design approach used in manufacturing to reduce the likelihood of product defects by preventing or reducing the likelihood of human errors.  Mistake proofing was formalised as a concept in Japan during the 1960’s and is also known as poka-yoke.  Notably, it was originally called baka-yoke, which meant ‘fool proof’.

We digress.  The point is that error proofing is an excellent way of constraining an individuals’ choices so that alternatives to a desired behaviour are difficult or impossible to access.

WA drivers who have previously risked their lives (and the lives of others) won’t be able to do so again.  And that has to be a good thing.

Read the full WA Today article here.

Photo courtesy Flickr User jpalinsad360

Crime, Justice and Social Determinants

It has been said that all wars begin long before the first shot is fired.  So it is with crime.  The causes of crime are not to be found in the justice system.  They arise well before.  And so the solutions cannot rest on the justice system alone.

The social determinants of crime are broadly similar to the social determinants of health which are reflective of living and working conditions.  These in turn hinge on the availability of work, adequacy of education and access to health services.

There is an established domino effect on a child’s health and education outcomes, and consequential societal outcomes, notably crime, where there is economic and social deprivation.  A child’s health and education is in turn singularly dependent on affordable access to services and resources.  But there is a disparity of affordable access between communities.

A 2009 Australian Human Rights Commission report identified a number of ‘high stakes’ communities in Western Australia.  Large proportions of young men from these communities are cycled through prison and then returned.  This can lead to further destabilization of those communities.

Moreover the high imprisonment rates from residents of such communities contribute to community break down, elevated crime rates and high incarceration rates.

Logically, preventative funding and improved accessibility of services in these localities will change the behavioural dynamic of both the community and the individuals residing there.  Overseas evidence indicates that the result is the emergence of safer and more confident communities.

Crime is a burden on the whole of our society.  It impacts our lives through loss of property, increased insurance premiums, and, when there are assaults, the need for medical intervention.  It also requires the diversion of scarce government resources to support the justice system.  As reported in the West Australian newspaper, since coming to power the Barnett Government has spent $655 million expanding the capacity of the prison system.  The daily cost of housing a prisoner reached $191 a day in 2011-12 with each prisoner spending an average 217 days in custody.

People want to see  ‘justice done’ and in response governments of both persuasions have invested heavily in the judicial and corrective services systems.  Western Australia’s incarceration rate is now above the national average.  More alarmingly, Aboriginal Australians are incarcerated at ten times the rate of non-Aboriginal Australians.  This ranks as the highest for any ethnic grouping in the world.  It’s time for change.

Imprisonment rates per 100,000 of population by ethnicity[1]


based on ethnicity


White 130

Black 680

Mixed 370

Asian 180

Chinese 50

United States of America

 based on ethnicity


White 412

Hispanics 742

Blacks 2,290

Western Australia

 based on overall population



Western Australia



Imprisonment rate for adult Aboriginals 2,483


 based on overall population






Imprisonment rate for Adult Aboriginals 1,720

As a 2010 parliamentary report highlighted that the effectiveness of prison as a deterrent is called into question when:

  • The high, if not worsening, recidivism rates for particular groups of offenders are examined;
  • The increasing cost to our justice system and therefore the taxpayer, is accounted for

A collaborative interagency response is needed

If we as a society are to change the behaviours that are integral to many of these issues a high level of interagency collaboration is needed.  Without it, the ‘wicked problem’ that is the ongoing root cause of crime in high risk communities will remain unaddressed.

This root cause includes all the issues of Aboriginal disadvantage, including dispossession from land, cultural alienation, social dysfunction, family dysfunction, poor standards of health, higher than average levels of mental illness, high levels of substance abuse, domestic violence, poor school attendance rates, poor employment participation rates, poor standards of housing and overcrowding, and racism.  Assuming that sustainable change is what we’re chasing, the ‘building blocks for targeted interagency intervention endorsed by COAG are perhaps not a bad place to start.  These ‘building blocks’ include a focus on;

  • Early Childhood
  • Economic Participation
  • Governance and leadership
  • Health
  • Safe communities, and
  • Schooling or education

As the tombstones of many government interventions attest, single agency intervention alone is insufficient.  Agencies must be empowered and incentivised to intervene within a collaborative framework.

Ironically, this does not simply require a behavioural intervention in the targeted communities.  It needs a change in the behaviours of existing departments and service providers whose KPI’s , funding and reporting structures are strongly vertical.  A ‘wicked problem’ indeed.

[1] Adapted from the Community Development and Justice Standing Committee Report No ^ ‘Making our Prisons Work’ 2010

Photo courtesy Flickr User kIM DELram