First, Capability describes the need for the person or people concerned to have either the physical strength or stamina or the psychological knowledge or skills to perform a behaviour. Opportunity describes the need for a conducive physical and/or social environment. Finally, motivation describes how the person or people must have sufficiently strong motivation, and crucially, at the relevant time.
A recent example: understanding communications channels most likely to influence behaviour
In a recent study, we used the COM-B model to create quantitative survey questions to help understand communications channels most likely to positively affect physicians’ future behaviour towards a new product. Under each of the three COM-B pillars described above, a 7-point agreement scale question was created, which was intended to best encapsulate that pillar.
First, under Capability, physicians were asked to rate how easy they think it is to understand information about relevant products when it comes through a number of different channels. Under Opportunity, respondents were asked to rate their preferences for each channel from an ease of access perspective. Finally, under Motivation, they were asked to rate how much they trust each channel.
Using these three simple questions, the channels where communications would be most likely to positively affect physicians’ future behaviour could be calculated. In particular, these were the channels where physicians had all of the following: the Capability to consume the communications (measured by high ease of understanding), the Opportunity to do so (measured by high ease of access), and the Motivation to do so (measured by high ease of trust).
Results showed that the most effective channel overall was, by some distance, medical websites: 85% of physicians had each of the Capability (high ease of understanding), Opportunity (high ease of access), and Motivation (high ease of trust) to consume relevant information from this channel.
Further, the approach of asking separately about Capability, Opportunity, and Motivation (as opposed to simply asking for overall preference) revealed some interesting and actionable findings. For example, while education events were rated very easy to understand (80%) and trust (79%), they were deemed much more difficult to access (66%).
Finally, further analysis demonstrated the key connections between the three COM-B pillars, as predicted by the two one-way arrows in COM-B (see image above). In particular, this helped to describe the process by which high Motivation (trust) is achieved. For example, for the most effective channel (medical websites), high trust was associated with both high ease of understanding and high ease of access.
This article has shown how the COM-B model, when applied in quantitative research, can help provide deeper insights, in any situation, into communications channels most likely to influence future behaviour. While the example above is based on quantitative research, the same approach of requiring high Capability, Opportunity, and Motivation can also be applied in qualitative research.
In addition, the COM-B model can help provide deeper insights into the optimum combination of channels (as opposed to examining different options separately). This is achieved through an advanced quantitative analysis method which will be explored in a future article.
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