Three behavioral change experts from the Netherlands visited Saba last week to exchange views in a workshop with a group of civil servants on how to change people’s behavior in a positive manner. “The idea is to empower people so they can apply the knowledge of behavioral science so the government and organizations can become more self-reliant in this area.”
Psychologists Matthijs van Leeuwen, Rick van Baaren and Tim Wolters are prominent experts in the field of behavioral science. They are part of the Behavioral Change Group with ties to the Radboud University in Nijmegen. They were invited by the Public Entity Saba to coach the government and share their know-how on behavioral science. They did so on a voluntary, non-paid basis.
“We want to empower to bring about positive change, to inspire and to help by providing the tools to bring about change,” explained Wolters. The visit of the three experts fits in the ambition and goal of the Public Entity to promote the recycling of waste.
Recycling is very important for Saba because it helps to keep the island clean, it is good for the environment and leads to a reduction of the amount of waste that is burned at the landfill. Recycling is a mindset: it is something that people have to get used to and it has to become a habit.
The Behavioral Change Group has done several hundred projects that tie into recycling, waste management in the Netherlands and abroad, but also projects to increase safety in nightlife, stimulate the use of bicycles in Vancouver, Canada or getting children in Nepal to brush their teeth.
The experts used the Nepal project as an example in the workshop with a group of Saba civil servants to have the participants come up with ways how to get children, and by extension their parents, to brush their teeth.
The workshop participants learned that there is a great barrier between knowledge (the knowing of why something has to be done), the attitude (wanting to do it) and the behavior (the actual carrying out). The participants discussed why people act in a certain way that is not always in the best interest of themselves or their environment, why people display certain behaviors such as resistance, reactance, skepticism and downright refusal.
Participants also learned that some campaigns can also have a contra-productive effect if not thought through well, why it is important to always say what you want to achieve in a campaign and why it is not effective to tell people what they shouldn’t do.
Social norms and social pressure play a major role in people’s behavior. Getting people to commit eventually leads to consistent, concrete behavior. “We often assume people will do what they should do, but it is more complicated than that,” said Van Leeuwen.
The Palau Pledge, a tool to get visitors to Palau to commit to behaving with respect for the local nature and culture, was used as an example of a very successful project. Sometimes simple measures can have wonderful effects, such as placing a green plastic grass mat with fake flowers around a garbage bin to prevent people from placing garbage next to the bin.
The experts said they really liked Saba’s slogan, the Unspoiled Queen. It is a true slogan, one that is associated with pride and comes from the hearts of the Saba people. “Saba really lives up to its name. It is truly the unspoiled queen. We understand the pride of the Saba people,” said Van Baaren.
“We have seen many islands and we are impressed by Saba’s state: it really is clean. Every visitor can see that. The pride of the Saba people is justified. We share that pride and we are honored to contribute to that sense of pride,” said Wolters. Pride plays a vital role in achieving positive change because it makes it easier to realize that change. A lot can be achieved with community spirit and pride, explained Van Baaren.
Marva Simmons, domestic violence coordinator for the Public Entity Saba, participated in last week’s workshop and was very positive about it. “The facilitators’ high energy levels and down to earth approach stimulated engagement with them and the topic. They shared examples of campaigns they worked on and not just theories of behavioral change. This led to a better understanding of the material,” she said.
“I walked away with a better knowledge about the thinking behind public campaigns to raise awareness. It will help me in the putting together of a domestic violence campaign this year. A campaign that will take into account the types of resistance people may have to change. I learned that it best to highlight the behavior you want to see and not focus on the negative behavior,” she said.
According to Simmons, it is vital to raise awareness and speak out and against domestic violence which has a great impact on the community and the future of our children. “Together we can work towards a violence-free home for all.”
As long as the local government is not sharing information about decisions – which is obligatory – they still have to learn a lot!