Curate tribes to deliver sustainable change

Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting different results.

John Shewell: Behaviour change campaigns must be carefully constructed
John Shewell: Behaviour change campaigns must be carefully constructed

In these times of austerity there is a tendency to avoid challenging the status quo and continue doing the same thing because people fear getting it wrong.

However, playing it safe is becoming the riskiest option and taking a (measured) risk will soon be the safest decision.

Local public services are constantly undergoing some form of change – this is the constant – and delivering successful change initiatives within the organisations and across communities needs to be aligned with a financial and social return.

Delivering a genuine return on financial investment that leads to better social outcomes can be achieved by harnessing the power of networks (both on and offline).

The starting position is identifying people with shared interests and connecting with them on their terms.

But the process requires effort, time and skill in identifying, designing and delivering a successful campaign.

The most important thing is to avoid ‘pushing’ the message, but pulling people into the issue that they already feel passionate about.

The art is in the science. This means proper planning and insight to identify and map the local network of activists.

The next step is to leverage the network and amplify the message in order to connect with other people who may be interested but not yet actively engaged.

This process of amplifying the network and message can quickly spread and generate a movement for change.

As Seth Godin points out in his book Tribes '[m]ost organisations spend their time marketing to the crowd. Smart organisations assemble the tribe.'

Godin’s point is that sustainable movement can be generated if you can identify, connect and leverage groups of people with a common interest.So don’t broadcast information, but connect and curate the conversations.

The people at Do Something Different are delivering something very similar. They understand the importance of starting small and scaling up and out.

Designed by two psychologists, DSD integrates neuroscience with behaviour change to achieve what it says on the tin – do something different.

One of their projects involved tackling truancy in a region of Norfolk. The outcome saw a significant change in the pupils’ behaviour and regular attendance at school.

Now consider the financial and social return this piece of work delivers for local public services.

Carefully constructed behaviour change campaigns can save money while improving social outcomes; and these are the sorts of outcomes that make a significant and measurable contribution to public services.


John Shewell is founder of CoLab and former head of comms at Brighton & Hove City Council.

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