Strategies for Achieving Institutional Change
Many strategies—including those derived from Institutional Change Principles–may be used to effect institutional change in support of energy and sustainability objectives.
These strategies include:
- Information Modeling
- Awareness Campaigns
- Technical Feedback
- Rewards and Incentives
- Social Norm Comparison
- Social Marketing.
Any and all of these strategies can be adapted to meet the strategic sustainability goals of Federal sites of different sizes, missions, and other contexts. As you explore these strategies, keep in mind how each could be used to activate change in your site's rules, roles, and tools.
"Information modeling" refers to a class of approaches that allow the user to quantify aspects of energy consumption and sustainability. Information modeling can be used to identify which behaviors might best be addressed through behavior or institutional change programs, as well as possible difficulties or barriers. Information modeling results may be useful in clearly and effectively communicating with your target groups.
Information modeling can also be used to compare your facility's current and projected energy use. More sophisticated modeling can involve higher levels of data aggregation, such as a set of uses, a set of buildings, or an entire campus or agency.
Applicable institutional change principles to use for the information-modeling strategy include:
"Awareness campaigns" provide target audiences with general information, such as the importance of saving energy and resources, or specific recommendations about how to save energy. Awareness campaigns include workshops, mass media pushes, videos, and direct mail. Providing information in various formats is usually necessary but information alone is not sufficient to achieve change.
While awareness campaigns can be effective in increasing short-term awareness about an issue, they typically don't result in actual behavior changes. "Changing minds" does not automatically lead to changing behavior—particularly when that behavior reflects well-established habits. Because information and outreach can plant the seeds for change, awareness campaigns are an important first step in many behavior change programs. Most successful programs use multiple awareness events and multiple settings combined with other strategies, such as gaining commitments from people and establishing new social norms, to prompt change.
Messages in awareness campaigns are more likely to be remembered when:
- They include vivid, concrete, and personalized information
- Use credible, trustworthy sources to convey messages
- Are written in clear, concise, and concrete language
- Delivered in multiple methods, settings, and sessions
- Tailor the information to the specific context
- Diffuse information through social networks.
Applicable institutional change principles to use for the awareness-campaign strategy include:
Technical feedback provides information about how well an individual employee or group of employees is performing relative to a specified goal, how current behavior outcomes compare to past outcomes, or how personal behavior outcomes compare to those of other employees or groups of employees.
Frequent or real-time technical feedback can be provided through phone apps, equipment sensors, and computer- or lobby-based dashboards. These technologies are especially useful for monitoring energy behaviors because of the potential to solve the "invisibility" problem—that is, because energy is "invisible," it is difficult to motivate behavior change. New technologies like dashboards focus on "seeing" energy use in real-time, including comparisons between employee or user groups.
The challenge is to use data not only to inform the organization but also to motivate change within it. Feedback by itself is only information; what employees and others do with the information is what matters in behavioral change efforts.
Technical feedback best practices include:
- Providing feedback more frequently (daily, real time) versus less frequently (weekly, monthly)
- Making data available in an unobtrusive manner, when and where people need them
- Combining feedback with specific actions to take that will reduce energy use
- Providing feedback on progress toward goal achievement
- Reinforcing or rewarding successful behaviors, including verbal praise or visual supports
- Combining feedback with prompts, reminders, or other triggers to maintain desired behaviors
Applicable institutional change principles to use for the technical-feedback strategy include:
Rewards and Incentives
In practice, rewards and incentives work together. Incentives often define the conditions under which a specific reward will occur. For example, employees at a site may be told that reducing air conditioning use by an average of 10% will result in an ice cream social party. Here, the incentive is the motivation to receive the reward of the party. The distinction is subtle and important—rewards sustain behavior that has changed; incentives provide the initial motivation. Ultimately, new employee behaviors should become rewarding in and of themselves to reduce the need for continued incentive motivators.
Behavior at a site is exhibited by many individual employees with various motivations and likes and dislikes. One potential approach is to offer incentives and rewards at work group or team level to encourage working together toward a common goal.
An applicable institutional change principle to use for the rewards and incentives strategy is Multiple Motivations.
Sustainability can be promoted through "design"–a context in which employees are naturally inclined to make sustainable decisions in their daily work routines. For instance, the design and location of stairways strongly influences whether people will choose to use the elevator or take the stairs.
A common strategy for creating or altering design is the use of default options. Examples of default options are preset thermostat settings and the order in which environmentally friendly supplies are presented in procurement software.
An applicable institutional change principle to use for the design strategy is Infrastructure.
Persuasion is the influence of beliefs, attitudes, intentions, motivations, or behaviors. Persuasion techniques go a step beyond information and outreach to explicitly convince people to take certain actions. With persuasion, there is no assumption that "the data speak for themselves" or that awareness leads to action.
Behavior expert Robert Cialdini cites the following six common persuasion techniques that can be added to your action plan.
- Reciprocity: The strong cross-cultural norm of returning favors.
- Commitment and consistency: The tendency to honor an idea or goal that has been committed to orally or in writing.
- Social proof: The tendency for people to do things that others are doing.
- Authority: The tendency of individuals to obey authority figures.
- Liking: The tendency for individuals to be easily convinced by people they like.
- Scarcity: Demand is generated when availability is limited.
Applicable institutional change principles to use for the persuasion strategy include:
Social norms are the explicit or implicit rules specifying what behaviors are acceptable within a society or group. Social norms spur and guide behavior. In the workplace, for example, we want to be accepted by fellow employees and supervisors and conform to the organization's behavioral practices. Showing how others are adopting sustainable practices therefore motivates people to be like their peers.
This concept can be used to reduce energy and resource consumption by utilizing information about employee energy use. This approach is increasingly used in programs for increasing recycling. In some cases, these interventions use information or feedback to reveal otherwise hidden norms to promote desired behaviors. In other cases, appeals to social norms have been used to guide people to make the desired choices in situations where they otherwise may not know what to do. However, research has shown that the social norms approach is not always successful and that the behavioral responses vary depending upon whether a person's behavior is different from the norm.
Applicable institutional change principles to use for the social-norm comparison strategy include:
Commitments are oral or written pledges to change behavior, which are often linked to specific goals, such as decreasing energy use by a certain percentage. Organizations that support a public commitment typically save more energy each month and sustain these savings over time. Public commitments are especially powerful because they activate social norms of commitment to others and may also activate reciprocity norms and values.
Applicable institutional change principles to use for the commitment strategy include:
Community-Based Social Marketing
Community-based social marketing focuses on identifying barriers and benefits to behavior change in individual groups or communities. The strategy uses psychological and sociological approaches to shape plans for action. Social marketing combines multiple tools, like commitment and appeals, to root behavior change in organizations pre-existing social fabric. For the long term, these strategies build community leadership and political will to create persistent change.
Applicable institutional change principles to use for the community-based social marketing strategy include:
After a developing an action plan, the fourth step is to implement it in a way that allows you to measure and evaluate its effectiveness and to determine where adjustments are needed.
- Step 1
- Step 2
Identify Rules, Roles, and Tools
- Step 3
Develop an Action Plan
- Step 4
Implement an Action Plan
- Step 5
Measure and Evaluate
Refine or Set New Goals