For example, as regards Messenger (M – see above), it has been shown that demographic and behavioural similarities between a “messenger” and a message recipient can improve intervention effectiveness.
MINDSPACE is a little more detailed than EAST – however, it works similarly. Through drawing on one or more of the effects above, MINDSPACE represents a second way to drive behaviour change.
Below are two examples of MINDSPACE in action.
MINDSPACE case studies
First, levels of waste, along with environmental problems, are key challenges associated with the inappropriate discarding of plastic bags. To help reduce plastic bag usage, in 2015 England introduced a mandatory five-pence charge to customers for each single-use plastic bag taken from large stores. All age, gender, and income groups in England substantially reduced their plastic bag usage within one month of the charge being introduced. This approach incorporated the ‘I’ (Incentives) in MINDSPACE above – drawing on the insight that humans are much more motivated to avoid losses than to pursue gains of similar value.
In another example, two of the nine effects from MINDSPACE (Messenger – ‘M’, and Norms – ‘N’) were employed simultaneously. Here, the study authors wanted to see if prescriptions of antibiotics by GPs in England could be reduced. An intervention group received a message from the Chief Medical Officer (Messenger) stating the practice was prescribing at a higher rate than 80% of practices in the local area (Norms). A control group received nothing. The resulting prescribing rate was 127 per 1,000 people in the intervention group vs 131 in the control group. This was a highly statistically significant difference, representing an estimated 73,406 fewer antibiotic items dispensed.
Critique of EAST and MINDSPACE
However, MINDSPACE and EAST have sometimes been criticised. Below are three key reasons. First, neither is based on any particular theory (see previous article about the importance of theories). They have therefore been criticised for simply representing a set of disparate observations rather than properly explaining anything.
Second, both frameworks (especially EAST) may be narrow in their scope, drawing only on behavioural economics research. For example, neither considers whether or not attitudes or values might be an important driver of behaviour. Finally, there is doubt whether either can be used to tackle complex, longstanding challenges. For example, the illustrations above typically described one-off actions or only measured short-term (not long-term) impacts.
This article has described two well-known UK government frameworks alongside a variety of successful real-life illustrations. Both EAST and MINDSPACE present simple, often cost-effective, evidence-based menus of options to help increase the likelihood of changing others’ behaviour.
However, these two frameworks may not always be the most appropriate. The third and final article in this series will focus on behaviour change models. It will describe how their added rigour – particularly alongside primary or secondary research – can help to further increase the chances of behaviour change success.
This article series contains selected highlights from “Four frameworks and models to help drive behaviour change” – a new, introductory guide written by Activate Research which will be released on 7th February 2023. To pre-order a free copy go to https://www.activate-research.com/behavioural-models-guide