Will simple statistics on behaviour help drive behaviour change?

In gamification, the objectives is often to reinforce a wanted behaviour and discouraging unwanted behaviours. Often we link what is tracked into visual dashboards and scorecards to give the individual and their organisation feedback on performance. Sometimes the performance is benchmarked against others, sometimes it is purely about your own figures. But the question often is: will simple statistics on behaviour held drive behaviour change?

In my experience, the statistics are a starting point to raise awareness. From years of working in change management, there are a few other steps that drive actual behaviour change, which also need to be put in place in addition to numbers. You need to provide a good enough reason why, change is important and then the first next step towards positive change. Let’s delve into all of these parts.

The statistics

Figures on their own may not make sense to people, if they have no idea how to read them or if they have no reference point on whether this is good or bad. Traffic light colours to indicate whether you are in the green or red can be helpful, sticking with the international understanding that green means go and red means stop. Having targets to aim for and a clear breakdown of what it will take to complete the target, as in actionable steps.

In some fields, people may have an aversion to anything to do with numbers, there more than anywhere, you need to tell the story, often in images, of what the numbers tell you. Linking it to a more epic goal, which is meaningful to the individual and the organisation, can overcome this hurdle. I have seen teams combating monsters, I have watched people walk all around the world, I have also seen dashboards where the images represented a rainforest re-growing.

Making the numbers relevant to the daily actions of the individual are core to drive any change. If you are only showing a team measure then the opportunity for change lies in every team member taking on board personal responsibility for their actions. Setting standards of good and bad is also useful to give insight on whether someone is on track to perform or not.

Giving a reason ‘why’

Research from Goldsmith University in London showed that the provision of dashboards about our impact on the climate made very little difference in changing behaviours. If we look at health trackers, for those of us that are on a mission to make a change the trackers are helpful feedback. For those of us, who have other priorities, they can be a regular nuisance and a shrug of the shoulders nice to know.

Having a compelling reason to do something that comes from the individual and really links to their values and goals is important. Merely wanting to change is not enough.

Practical and linked to existing habits

When looking to achieve a goal, we need an actionable plan that fits into our lifestyle and daily routines. A plan needs to be practical and actionable. Contributing to climate change, for example, may be your goal and part of your values, but how does that translate into something that is practical and actionable for the individual. It may mean recycling trash for one person, for another, it is eating organic, for another, it is walking or cycling to work instead of taking the car. If however, the recycling station is miles away and it takes you a half day to bring the items there, even some of the very climate-conscious may not go as far as the recycling station because it just isn’t practical.

Our worlds are full of contradicting priorities and they pull us in various different directions, whether it is a trip to the gym or a dinner with friends. Going for a jog or continuing that chat on Whatsapp. It takes a bit of discipline and a clear will to achieve a goal to carry out and implement the steps needed. Building it in and linking it to things you already do regularly by habit is a good way to think about changing behaviour. One additional step to an existing habit is easier to achieve than a whole new routine.

First next step

When we are learning a new way of doing something, we need to know the next step. We may not need to know the full process from the start, but just the first next step is useful as your keep progressing. If you are playing a casual mobile game for the first time, the tutorial teaching you typically the first next step, not the whole game at once. Think about Candy Crush or Angry Birds, would you have gone past level 1 if you were given all the boosters and combinations and levels from the first time you tried playing?

The LinkedIn profile example comes to mind here. When they first introduced the progression bar on profile completeness, they also showed you the steps to take to make the % improve. Peer pressure and our conditioning from school to want to complete above a certain percentage, sure helped the rest of the way.

Gamification to help

Game mechanics such as progression trackers can help, feedback loops with benchmark colours can too. Moreover game dynamics such as competition, collaboration or perceived/real peer pressure can create the impetus to finally take the step towards behaviour change. Each scenario needs to be explored and examined to give an idea of what can work best for the audience you want to make the behaviour change.

Gamification for behaviour change always starts with an exploration of what drives the individuals. Once we know the values, goals and motivational drivers, we then look at game dynamics and subsequently game mechanics to build out from.


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