Why talk about behaviour change?
Rachel Litherland and Camilla Child
Many current global challenges require us to change our behaviour. We are entreated to reduce our carbon emissions, recycle, reduce consumption of unhealthy food, and take more exercise. Some of us live and work in communities which continue to face deprivation, where residents have limited aspirations, poor education and skills, and where community resilience and cohesion is low.
The IDeA and The Tavistock Institute have developed a model to explore current thinking and practices relating to behaviour change in local contexts, focusing also on what partners can also do to make a difference. Our evidence is drawn from literature and theory, supported by lessons drawn from good practices nationally. One of the early conclusions has been that changing behaviour in individuals and communities also requires change in strategy and service provision.
‘Whole system’ thinking is central to our approach. This sees all players (local authorities, sector partners and communities) playing a role. Research tells us that local specifics are of central importance.
In our current work, we are looking to address two key questions:
Why strategic and delivery partnerships are deemed to be effective, use best practices and yet results remain static?
If the conventional approaches are not working, what can we do differently that will be successful?
Principles for action
Today’s financial circumstances require answers beyond providing more services. Sustainable change, rather, will involve a cultural shift by local strategic partnerships and providers to support change within communities.
Strengthened partnership working for better delivery
The shift to inter-agency and cross-boundary working which is becoming the norm in the public sector, makes extraordinary demands on organisations and the individuals working within them, as they struggle with different norms, expectations and practices. Unclear and contested roles are sometimes reflected in policy and practice. Often, local strategic partnerships work together effectively, but problems exist in integrated service delivery, without clear messages being communicated down the line.
Improvements can be achieved in different ways. Exploring new ways of relating to partners, joining up services, or aligning budgets to deliver on agreed results these all support the development of a better integrated public sector.
Currently some of the related issues of sovereignty, authorisation, accountability and responsibility appear to be insurmountable. However, these issues must be looked at openly and addressed in order to plan, organise and deliver relevant services which deliver tangible results for our local communities.
Locally-driven policy formulation
In determining the shape and nature of services, local authorities and partners often inadvertently prescribe solutions from the centre with limited recourse to local need or context (an unpopular measure when practised by central government!).
A different response is to gain deeper understanding of local communities by being open to learning with and from them. Policies ‘co-produced’ by government departments, local partners and target populations, encourage ‘buy in’ and provides access to community aspirations and understanding of an issue. Frontline staff, the voluntary and community sector and local politicians may also have the key to unlocking solutions.
This system-wide view of behaviour change means that councils and partners may need to hold different kinds of conversations with each other and with their communities to discover solutions together. Allowing policy and solutions to be created ’side-by-side’ may require change by agencies used to driving policy. However working in this way provides additional opportunities for organisations and groups to develop the capacity to learn, and increase resilience.
Brighton & Hove City Council taking up the challenge
Brighton & Hove City Council and the local strategic partnership have agreed to work with IDeA and The Tavistock Institute on a behaviour change project focusing on reducing the number of teenage pregnancies, setting this in a wider context of support for young people and their families.
The UK still has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe, and Brighton & Hove, along with other seaside towns, are grappling with this difficult issue.
As Acting Chief Executive Alex Bailey says: ‘Teenage pregnancy is a real factor in inter-generational cycles of deprivation, we need to understand better what really shifts behaviours and attitudes if we are to effectively break those cycles’.
With the recent launch of a local teenage pregnancy action plan, local leaders and front-line staff are better prepared than ever, but are ready to explore an approach which broadens the issue to secure the change in behaviour required to achieve local and national targets.
Developing the principles into a plan for change
Together, we are developing a way of working which focuses on the following:
* Working with the unique characteristics of Brighton & Hove residents and the experience of their everyday lives in deprivation hot spots.
Bringing community members together with local strategic partners and front-line staff.
* Creating space in which partners can explore underlying issues contributing to or obstructing successful partnership allowing for constructive challenge, so that progress is grounded in an honest and collaborative appraisal of the issues.
* Concentrating on joining up the current good practices and improving communications so that the whole system works more effectively together.
We’ll do this through a combination of methods including individual interviews, whole system community events setting goals, and action learning sets to deepen understanding and consolidate change.
A prediction for Brighton & Hove
Amongst the expected results are greater shared understanding and purpose about issues which impact on the worlds of young people, their families and teenage pregnancy. Coupled with shifts in how people communicate both between organisations and with community members, we would expect to create a shared understanding of how change can happen and the steps that need to be taken to secure it in different contexts. A related aspect is to develop a broad ‘learning community’ which champions change.
Achieving the kind of behaviour change we all envisage is not going to be easy. The pay-off, however, will be sustainable real results for local people, partners and councils alike.
Rachel Litherland is the IDeA’s national adviser on partnership working. She leads a national programme of support, advice and guidance for councils and their partners on how to develop partnership working as a key way to deliver better results, more efficiently for local people. She is on secondment to the IDeA from Suffolk County Council where she is Head of Partnerships.
Camilla Child is a senior consultant at The Tavistock Institute, a not-for-profit organisation which undertakes research, evaluation and organisational consultancy for private, public and voluntary sector clients. She has many years experience of managing and designing evaluations and her current areas of expertise now lie in the organisation and management of cross boundary and multi-disciplinary working.