Understanding the Role of Values


This week I attended a fantastic summit organised by the 2050 Scottish Youth Climate Group. One of the workshops I attended was focused on behaviour change models. During the workshop we only had time to concentrate on one of the models – DEFRA’s 4Es. However, I have since done a little reading around some of the other models mentioned by the presenter. One in particular has really caught my attention. It is the Common Cause model which you can read more about at: http://valuesandframes.org/handbook/1-why-values-matter/ 

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As I mentioned in my last post, one core issue in getting people to maintain healthy behaviours arises from the fact that our biases mean it can be difficult for us to commit to undertake the activities we plan to do. With this in mind, I went to find out more about StickK. Its a great website, created by Yale Uni economists and built on real economics. The concept is that you log in to the website and enter your personal goal or ‘commitment contract’. You can then ‘set the stakes’ whereby you nominate someone to receive a financial amount (i.e. your cash) if you don’t meet your goal.

According to the site, they’ve had 265,200 commitments created and $19,037,674 put on the line. I think it would work for me. What about you?

Health Behaviours


I had the opportunity to attend a great lecture last night as part of Edinburgh University’s ‘Our Changing World’ lecture series. It was right up my street, looking at Health Economics and Health Behaviours. The presenter, Prof. Michele Belot, did a great job at explaining why we find it difficult to adopt behaviours which are good for us – particularly health behaviours such as taking exercise, eating well and limiting alcohol intake. We learnt why we might want to do these things, but then find it difficult to stick to our plans. Continue reading

Talking to Strangers


I have just returned from a great two weeks travelling in Ontario, Canada. A holiday, or any sort of break from normality, often allows us to see things differently and one of the most noticeable differences I left Canada thinking about was the number of strangers I spoke to during my two week trip. Now, I accept that when you are travelling you may have more need to speak to ‘strangers’ – hotel staff for instance – but it was more than just that. It may sound like nothing, but during the first week, two people asked me what the time was. I cannot even remember the last time anyone asked me the time in the UK! I am ashamed to say that the first time it happened, I almost felt like I was about to be tricked somehow. As if I might pull out my phone to get the time, and promptly have it stolen. In reality, the girl really did just want to know what the time was.

I think it is such a shame that in the UK we are losing these random face-to-face interactions.  I’m not sure how we ‘recover’ them although I’m off to go and read more about the role of social and public spaces.

Couch to 5K


Until just a couple of months ago, I was quite convinced that I could not run. I’ve always enjoyed a variety of sports and played on most of the teams at school, but running was a completely different matter. However, as I mentioned in an earlier blog post I’ve recently been feeling that I needed to increase my exercise levels. I decided to give the NHS’s ‘Couch to 5k’ a try and it has completely changed my views on running and I am now proudly running for 30 minutes three times per week. I recently highlighted a report by the Behavioural Insights Team which explained the key principles for effecting behaviour change. I thought it would be interesting to reflect back on Couch to 5k and see why it has been so successful for me using the Behavioural Insights Team’s principles.  Continue reading

The effects of commuter benefits


I read this article with much interest yesterday. It examines the results of a study by Virginia Tech transport scholars Andrea Hamre and Ralph Buehler who were investigating the effects of commuter benefits – free parking, free bus/transit pass etc. It took me a moment to understand the graphs which you can see on the CityLab article, but in summary they show:

  • if you give a group of employees just free parking, they will drive alone more often (as you would expect)
  • if you give a group of people just free transit, they will take transit more often (again, as you would expect)
  • however, if you give employees free transit and free parking, transit use is actually lower than if there were no benefits given.

So, free parking and free transit do not counter-balance one another. The article rightly points out the problems this causes for cities who are attempting to promote increase use of alternative modes. It also highlights the complexity of incentives and our human responses to them.

Something missing


Apologies for the poor quality of the photo, but it was taken at 10PM last night. The traffic lights you can see were installed just last week. Already they are being well used, but perhaps not for what they are supposed to be used for; last night they made a very good bike stand!

Traffic Lights

At first I wasn’t best impressed with the people who had decided to leave their bikes attached to the post – blocking both the pavement and crossing. However, I then realised there was a bigger point to this. This particular set of traffic lights is right by Granton Harbour, which is well used by local people especially when the sun is shining as it was yesterday. The area is served by some pretty good footpaths and cycle paths. However, there really aren’t many places for people coming to the Harbour to leave their bikes – demonstrated by the use of the traffic lights as a proxy bike stand. A bike rack wouldn’t cost much and not only would it support cycling but also the use of one North Edinburgh’s fantastic local assets. Edinburgh has some good cycling infrastructure, but perhaps the City needs to get the basics sorted if cycling is to flourish here.