Influencing behaviour

More effective environmental policy through insight into human behaviour

Introduction

The Netherlands faces the challenge of rendering society and the economy more sustainable. This advisory report is concerned with the use of insights drawn from behavioural science in pursuit of environmental objectives. Using behavioural knowledge in this way seems only logical, so why does it demand special attention?

More effective environmental policy through insight into human behaviour
Hollandse Hoogte/ Corbis Images

Knowledge about behaviour

The government must take charge in matters which relate to general societal interests but which will not be achieved automatically. Maintaining a clean and healthy environment is just such an objective. It will not be achieved ‘automatically’ because it is not always possible to rely on members of the public showing the most sustainable, environmentally responsible behaviour.

Individual behaviour is influenced by many factors, including personal circumstances, priorities, and motives. Some people attach little or no importance to the environment, perhaps because they are unable to foresee the consequences of ongoing environmental decline. Others may believe that adopting sustainable behaviour is difficult or expensive. And sometimes, sustainable behaviour is simply not the obvious choice.

Human behaviour is complex and varies according to the situation. The public response to policy measures is often difficult to predict based on the usual assumptions about the rationality of behaviour. The effectiveness of environmental policy would be significantly enhanced if the development process were to make (more) deliberate and systematic use of behavioural knowledge: insights into how and why people act in a certain way in a certain situation. Fortunately, there is now a substantial body of knowledge about human behaviour, its mechanisms, and how people are likely to respond to government (policy) interventions. Policy processes are now beginning to draw upon this knowledge in earnest. In 2009, the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) published an advisory report entitled ‘The human decision-maker: on the psychology of choice and behaviour’, which calls for behavioural knowledge to be used to the greatest possible extent in support of good policy.

The Behaviour Analysis Framework and Behaviour Quick Scan

The Council for the Environment and Infrastructure (Rli) is now going a step further by establishing direct links between behavioural knowledge and policy options. It does so by means of the Behaviour Analysis Framework developed to accompany this advisory report. The Framework will help policy-makers to conduct a thorough analysis of the relevant determinants of behaviour, which include an individual’s knowledge and skills, his or her motives, personal circumstances, and the choice processes which come into play in a given situation. The Behaviour Analysis Framework has been condensed to form the Behaviour Quick Scan. It is a useful tool which makes it far easier to take human behaviour into account when selecting policy instruments, which may range from legislation to measures which encourage and facilitate civil initiatives.

The advisory report is in two sections: Part 1 (Advice) and Part 2 (Analysis). Both are available in English and can be downloaded from this website. The accompanying Behaviour Analysis Framework and the Behaviour Quick Scan are available in Dutch only.

Four case studies

The Council has applied the Behaviour Analysis Framework to four case studies in the environmental policy domain:

  • Sustainable mobility (peak-hour avoidance)
  • Household energy efficiency
  • Reduction of food wastage
  • Domestic waste management (separation of organic waste at source)

The most significant findings are presented throughout the body of the advisory report. A full account is published separately, in Dutch only.

Publication date

The advisory report ‘Influencing behaviour – more effective environmental policy through insight into human behaviour’ was presented to Ms Wilma Mansveld, State Secretary for Infrastructure and Environment, on 5 March 2014.