Designing experiences that enable and sustain behavior change ☀️
What are the core repeatable elements of experience that can truly influence people to take more sustainable actions?
Imagine you are drinking a warm cup of coffee and are filling in a questionnaire your friend sent you that will tell you how much CO2 your lifestyle creates. You fill in the last question, you take a sip as you wait for your results to load. The results are clear. Their are many lifestyle changes you can make to life more sustainably. You want to lie more sustainably!
But will you really change your behavior?
Nearly 2 million Finnish people have taken the Positive Sustainable Lifestyle (PSL) tool. It was so successful that it has now been exported to 8 other European lands. The Kaospilot (who partnered with Kindmind) was invited to facilitate and train the PSL team from Sitra, the Finish Innovation Department. They wanted to learn how to design experiences that drive sustainable behavioral change, before and after people have taken the PSL test. It was an amazing process. We learned so much from the incredible team at Sitra and the work they did. The work left us believing in the crucial importance of using the existing research about behavioral change from the fields of education, policy, organizational change, and of course design, but with the urgent task of designing new experiences that can drive sustainable behavioral change at scale.
Ready to begin?
I. How can you design intrinsically motivating experiences?
What experiences can we design that will support people in internalizing a desire for behavioral change? Intrinsic motivation is the holy grail of behavioral change. Organismic Integration Theory (OIT) , a sub-theory of self-determination theory can help us.
What is this about?
This theory, helps us divide the process of designing experiences that result in deep intrinsic motivation into 2 stages and thus gives us clarity of where to start and how to move from extrinsic motivation to intrinsic.
1. Internalization This is about designing so that an action/activity is perceived as having a higher purpose that is attractive to the participant. The process of internalization will be strengthened through creating experiences that drive autonomy, competence and relatedness (Deci E. 2014).
2. Integration This is about designing a robust process of ‘integration’ that will support the movement from a sense of new internalized values into actions, behaviors and changes in how a person lives. The integration is successful to the extent that the participant perceives the changes they are making as their own choice (Richard R, 2023).
How to apply this?
You can design for internalization by providing a meaningful rationale for why someone should take an action. Internalization takes place in the Excitement and the Entry stage of the 5E Experience Design model or is the ‘setting a learning arch’ phase of Kaospilot Learning Arch Design. Ideally, participants are not only told why an activity is meaningful but get to reflect and articulate for themselves why the activity is meaningful to them. We practice this in many ways, but for example by sending a Workbook before a learning experience to trigger reflection about the topic at hand before training or creating space for ‘checking-in’ at the beginning of a learning experience to surface motivations and build connection.
If an experience is not internalized, it can not be integrated.
Integration is when someone takes on new values and behaviors as their own. Integration starts in the internalization phase. One way to trigger integration as an experience designer is to create environments and situations that stimulate participants emotionally around the topic at hand and then provide a well-structured process for reflection. One suggestion is: pair, square, and share — individual reflection, reflection in small groups, and finally reflection and harvesting insights as a whole group.
One reflection has created a change of perspective on an experience, this is the rich soil that commitment to action and behavioral change can be sowed (Bubnys R. 2010). Both positive and negative emotions can feed a deep and generative reflection process (Deci E. 2014).
Positive Relational Context:
One of the primary ways people learn to regulate their behavior is through others. We are more likely to adopt behavior that is exhibited by people close to us, (Deci 2014), for example, our friends or family. We also internalize behaviors that are transmitted by our: teachers, coworkers, and employers if they are meaningful relationships with us (Richard R. 2023). You can apply this in the experiences you design by for example bringing in relatable role models or peers who are able to demonstrate new behaviors you want to encourage.
The Oxford Handbook of Self-Determination Theory (2023) Richard R.
Facilitating Internalization: The Self-Determination Theory (2014) Deci E., Eghrari H., Patrick B.,
Reflective Learning Models in the Context of Higher Education (2010) Bubnys R.
Self Determination Theory and How It Explains Motivation, (2018) Ackerman C.
II. How do our relationships and contexts inspire sustainable change?
The Socio-Ecological Model
The Socio-Ecological Model inspires us to design experiences that align and connect individuals with their communities and relationships to enable change. By considering the complex interplay of influences, the Socio-Ecological Model offers a comprehensive approach to understanding, transforming, and sustaining behaviors within diverse social systems.
What is this about?
The Socio-Ecological Model recognizes the dynamic interaction between individuals and our broader social and environmental contexts. It emphasizes the various levels of influence on human behavior, ranging from individual factors to interpersonal relationships, community factors, societal norms, and policy environments. It underscores the interconnectedness of these factors in shaping behavior and advocates for interventions that target multiple levels simultaneously to promote positive change.
How to Apply This?
Interpersonal Experiences: How might we leverage social networks and relationships in designing experiences that foster supportive environments for behavior change?
💡Peer exchange, buddy systems or online communities can facilitate social support and accountability, enabling the sharing of progress, challenges, and successes with like-minds.
Community Experiences: How might we engage community stakeholders in building supportive physical and social environments that reinforce sustained behavior change?
💡Meaning-driven community or neighborhood-based initiatives can foster a deeper sense of belonging and collective responsibility to sustain change behaviors.
Involving People, Evolving Behavior, (2003) N. McKee, E. Manoncourt, Chin S.Y., R. Carnegie
Connectedness With Nature (CWN)
Embracing the multifaceted relationship between humans and the natural world and fostering this connection is crucial for personal well-being and environmental stewardship.
What is this about?
The CWN is a state of consciousness that leverages four dimensions of experience to address our disconnect from nature and provoke action:
Emotion: focuses on the emotional bond between humans and nature, encompassing feelings of awe, joy, and tranquility.
Beauty and Aesthetic: recognizes appreciating and valuing nature’s beauty cultivates a deeper connection and sense of care.
Meaning and Identity: Nature contributes to personal identity and a sense of belonging, providing purpose, spiritual connection, and a feeling of being part of something greater.
Compassion and Responsibility: highlights the ethical aspect of the human-nature relationship, developing empathy and responsibility toward nature to motivate stewardship actions.
How to Apply This?
Here are some questions to spark you in designing experiences that connect people to nature:
- How might we design experiences as opportunities for individuals to reconnect their personal values, stories and identities with nature?
- How might we design inclusive immersive and connective experiences in nature to evoke transformative emotions like wonder and awe?
- How might we incorporate nature-inspired aesthetics and elements to our experience designs through colors, patterns, or materials in order to sense the deep beauty of the natural world?
- Home To Us All: How Connecting with Nature Helps Us Care for Ourselves and the Earth, Report released by the Children & Nature Network, Canada)
- Connectedness as a Core Conservation Concern: An Interdisciplinary Review of Theory and a Call for Practice (2013) Zylstra M, Knight A, Esler K. Grange
- WISR: From moments of wonder to regenerative mindsets (2022) Dr Benjamin Freud, Ph.D, Charlotte Hankin, Louka Parry,
III. Transform individuals to transform a system
In the work of driving behavioral change at scale, we need to become experts in facilitating experiences that allow people to ‘scale deep’ — the journey of transforming people’s mindsets. ‘Scaling deep’ is the foundation that transforming collectives or ‘Scaling out’ and transforming structures and systems or ‘Scaling up’ are built upon.
“We cannot give what we do not have”
What is this about?
The Scaling Impact model amplifies the key importance of working on Personal and Interpersonal Transformation before change can scale to transform communities and collectives. This model cautions us of general myopia towards scaling as replication. The foundational work of ‘scaling deep’ is often overlooked. Scaling deep’ is the keystone that must be built into the design of interventions that aim to achieve deep change.
Scaling deep examines the quality of impact at the behavioral level from individual personal transformations that translate to interpersonal changes. This happens among those whose mindsets and actions shift to manifest profound change in their own lifestyle, naturally influencing those around them.
Scaling out increases output or replicates the impact on more places and communities. For example, a health education program might open new training sites and train more nurses.
Scaling up transforms systems and structures. A health education program promotes the implementation of a new policy that provides the infrastructures that could sustain change and addresses systemic gaps with evidence.
How to apply this?
Design learning experiences that have both personal development and skills development.
The potential to develop the work of scaling deep is huge particularly because the predominant way of ‘growing up’ and development in almost every corner of the world is for every person to go through ‘schooling’ and achieve some institutional certification. A shift from a siloed to an interdisciplinary and holistic approach to learning and practice is a timely direction as the world becomes more complex and increasing segments of the global population suffer from isolation.
We have found that programs that are designed to facilitate a ‘Scaling Deep’ work are best integrated into technical skills-building programs.
- How might you design ‘Scaling Deep’ experiences that focused on the transformation of learners' identity and sense of agency?
- How might this personal change complement technical skills development?
IV. How might we design ‘disorienting dilemmas’ to trigger meaningful change?
Can designing experiences so people feel discomfort be fuel for deep change? Provocative or transformational life experiences are common to every person alive and it can be a spectrum of awe-inspiring to vexing and painful extremes. The Transformational Learning Theory explains how adults particularly learn from experiences of discomfort by stimulating thought, stirring powerful emotions, and changing our behavior.
What is it about?
Transformational learning is the process of fundamental change within our current worldviews, mental models, beliefs, and values (Mezirow, 2000). We all possess a body of experience that forms the foundation of all our assumptions about the way in which the world works. We normally tend to reject contradictions to our own mental models and assumptions. When we go through experiences that challenge these assumptions, it can be powerfully leveraged to drive a deeply reflective process leading to a change in thinking and actions.
The model follows 10 Phases of thinking and action:
- Disorienting Dilemma. A situation or an experience that does not fit individual preconceptions and can be perceived as confusing or jarring.
- Emotional Reaction. The reaction of fear, anger, guilt, and shame being unable to make the ‘disorienting dilemma’ fit their present construct.
- Assessment of presently held assumptions. After feeling fear, anger, guilt, or shame, individuals then go into a logical period of assessing if their presently held assumptions are right or make sense.
- Understanding that one is not alone or that these disrupting experiences are not unique to us and that others experience similar dilemmas gives us a sense of hope.
- Exploration of new roles is the phase when a person finds his or her sense of agency and is activated to reconcile the dilemma by exploring how he or she can think differently.
- Creating a plan of action is when the individual sense of agency translates to finding and creating a way forward with new ways of thinking and behaving.
- Gaining knowledge for the plan happens as individuals craft this new journey forward, the insights they generate along the way become new knowledge that guides the updating of their worldview.
- Trying on the selected new role is the courage to actually activate this new worldview and live it.
- Development of confidence in the new role forms part of the well-known adage that practice makes perfect. As the individual continues to practice this new or updated worldview, he or she grows in confidence in practicing and understanding it.
- Integration of the new perspective into one’s life is the cementing of this new or updated worldview into one’s personality, set of mental models, and behavior.
How to Apply This?
Following Mezirow’s Transformational Model can provide the framework for how organizations can design the space, the tools, and the community of learning and support that may leverage life’s ‘disorienting dilemmas’ to trigger meaningful change.
- How might you design experiences that draw out contradictions in participants' mental models?
- How might you follow the steps of Mezirow’s Transformational Model in your context?
- Desmarais, P. (2021, September 9). Transformation learning — theory to practice. Link
- The Professional School of Psychology. Model Three: The Nature of Transformational Learning. Link
V. How might we sustain change over time?
Adults want to learn what is relevant and meaningful to their contexts and experiences. The Transtheoretical (TTM) Model acknowledges that individuals come from different contexts and levels of ‘readiness’ to learn and change. Effective interventions must understand where people are at to achieve long-term behavior change.
What is it about?
The research by Drs. James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente have resulted in: The Transtheoretical Model that we will explore below. The main point here is that change is a process and it is rarely a single moment in time. It occurs over time. It has stages and processes. The TTM Model explains that the change process is a sequence of stages through which people progress as they consider, start, and maintain new behaviors. The model gives a perspective on the stage individuals are progressing through, and identifies strategies that enhance individuals’ motivation to progress to the next stage (Karl 2020).
Stages of Change are the stages individuals go through as they modify their behavior — this is the what of change. Processes of Change are the strategies to help individuals make and maintain change. The Transtheoretical Model By: Drs. James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente
Below are the strategies or Processes of Change:
- Consciousness Raising is the work of increasing awareness about healthy behavior.
- Dramatic Relief is the emotional arousal about healthy behavior, whether it is positive or negative arousal.
- Self-Revaluation is the process of self-reappraisal to realize that healthy behavior is part of who they want to be.
- Environmental Reevaluation is the social reappraisal to realize how unhealthy behavior affects others.
- Social Liberation is the identification of environmental opportunities that exist to show society is supportive of healthy behavior.
- Self-Liberation is the commitment to change behavior based on the belief that the achievement of healthy behavior is possible.
- Helping Relationships is the process of finding supportive relationships that encourage the desired change.
- Counter-Conditioning is the process of substituting healthy behaviors and thoughts for unhealthy behaviors and thoughts.
- Reinforcement Management is the process of rewarding positive behavior and reducing the rewards that come from negative behavior.
- Stimulus Control is re-engineering the environment to have reminders and cues that support and encourage healthy behavior and remove those that encourage unhealthy behavior.
How to Apply This?
In design practice, it is normal to generate personas to easily define the qualities and characteristics of our audience. This approach may be valuable when designing general experiences but we can argue that it may not be the best to use when we are aiming for a deeper kind of change — one that considers the unique bio-psychosocial qualities and agency potential of a person to make and maintain behavior change.
- When designing for behavioral change, can you identify where your audience is using the Transtheoretical Model? Based on where they are, what strategies will support them in moving forwards in the process of change?
- Karl, T. (June 2, 2020). The 5 Stages of Change and the Transtheoretical Model (TTM) — Do You Know the Basics? R1 Learning. Link
- Mundorf, N., Redding, C. A., & Paiva, A. L. (2018). Sustainable Transportation Attitudes and Health Behavior Change: Evaluation of a Brief Stage-Targeted Video Intervention. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(1). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15010150
- Wayne W. LaMorte. (November 3, 2022). The Transtheoretical Model (Stages of Change). Boston University School of Public Health. https://sphweb.bumc.bu.edu/otlt/mph-modules/sb/behavioralchangetheories/behavioralchangetheories6.html
Article co-authored by: Abi Mapua, Marite Irvine, and Andy Sontag
👉 Want to learn more about our work with experience design?
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