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Society vs the individual - How can we work together to enable behaviour change?

Fogg Rogers, Laura; Boushel, Corra; Chatterton, Tim; Hayes, Enda T


Corra Boushel
Research Associate in CLAiR City Communications

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Enda Hayes
Professor in Air Quality and Carbon Management


In order to prevent potential climate change catastrophe we need many countries and cultures to work together towards a shared aim. However, political, geographical and even administrative barriers mean this gargantuan task is often neglected by policymakers. Despite ratifying treaties for change such as the Paris Agreement, action is slow to transpire at a societal level and may even be reversed by political changes. Instead, environmental communication efforts focus on individuals – imploring us to change our personal behaviours to benefit the environment (Chatterton, 2016).
Conversely, psychological and social research indicates that asking individuals to change their behaviour against the norms of society is at best ineffective, and at worst harmful to the individual. Social Cognitive Theory indicates that parts of an individual's learning can be directly related to observing others within the context of social interactions and outside media influences (Bandura, 1977, 2001; Fogg-Rogers, Sardo, & Boushel, n.d.). Similarly, the COM-B model of behaviour change (Michie, van Stralen, & West, 2011), drawing on the Theory of Planned Behaviour, recognises that an individual’s behaviour is part of an interacting system of their capability, opportunity, motivation and behaviours. However, many determinants of behaviour lie outside the individual, and to this end Chatterton and Wilson (2014) developed the “Four Dimensions of Behaviour” framework in order to highlight how diverse ‘behaviours’ can be, and how they can range from ones dominated by internal cognitive processes, to ones which are massively constrained by physical and social systems and structures.
In this paper, we argue that environmental communications therefore need to focus on creating societal change in order to enable individual behaviour change. In other words, people need to be given opportunities to change, they need to see others doing the same and they need to be supported in doing so. Changing behaviour is difficult to do and costly in terms of both energy and time. Environmental solutions therefore need to be easier than other alternatives, and need to be communicated as socially normative – “everyone else is doing it and so can/should I”.
In the newly established European project ClairCity (, we apply this approach to reducing air pollution and carbon emissions in cities. The project is engaging with citizens and policymakers from six European cities/regions. Several public engagement strategies are being employed, including crowdsourcing issues and solutions in each city, an interactive policy game, a mobile app for businesses, schools competitions and workshops for action.
The project doesn’t aim to change individual behaviour in its lifetime, but is instead aiming to influence city development in order to ensure that low emission patterns of behaviour are encouraged, enabled and supported sufficiently for them to become new normals. Policy packages will be generated for each city that will reflect how changes can be made to the social and structural organisation of the city to ensure that low emission options can become embedded in citizens’ everyday lives. This presentation will talk about the process and challenges in this approach, so that others can learn from the project developments.

Presentation Conference Type Lecture
Start Date Jun 29, 2017
Publication Date Jul 1, 2017
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
APA6 Citation Fogg Rogers, L., Boushel, C., Chatterton, T., & Hayes, E. T. (2017, June). Society vs the individual - How can we work together to enable behaviour change?. Presented at Conference on Communication and the Environment, Leicester, England
Keywords science communication, public engagement, air pollution, ClairCity
Additional Information Title of Conference or Conference Proceedings : Conference on Communication and Environment


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