University of Vermont


Creating a Shared Vision

by Anna Mika, M.S., Ph.D., 2009-2012 Performance Tracking Fellow

On April 7th and 8th, I attended a Community Based Social Marketing (CBSM) workshop in Toronto, Canada, put on by Dr. Doug McKenzie-Mohr.  The workshop, entitled "Fostering Sustainable Behavior" focused on the psychological motivations and barriers people may have to participating (or not participating) in a certain behavior.

The workshop was very fast-paced and engaging.  We frequently stopped discussing theories to work in small groups to try to apply the strategies Dr. McKenzie-Mohr just introduced to a real world example.  I found this very useful because questions and issues very quickly arose as we experienced some growing pains in trying to work within a new paradigm.  For example, Dr. McKenzie-Mohr emphasized that the behavior change we wanted to target had to be "non-divisible" and "end-state."  By this he meant that we could not address broad categories of behavior changes, such as trying to be more energy efficient, because these categories can be made up of many small behaviors (244 to be exact!).  Dr. McKenzie-Mohr, and eventually the rest of the group, was quick to point out when the behavior we were discussing was not specific enough.

The aspect of the workshop that I found most interesting was how the psychology of motivating people plays into creating successful programs and initiatives to try to engage people in behavior changes.  Simply distributing information does not work because there is no connection between people's knowledge about something and their attitude about it or their behavior.  CBSM-based programs include considering barriers to a specific behavior change, social norms, and people's self perceptions as well as their perceptions of the social norm.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the workshop was our discussion about social norms and how social diffusion of a behavior can cause others to engage in a behavior because others in their community or someone well known and well respected is doing the behavior.  We also discussed how many of the sustainability related behaviors many people engage in are not directly tied to a shared vision of sustainability.  By this he meant that although someone can participate in recycling and bringing reusable grocery bags with them to the store, that person may not be aware of the "big picture" of how these behaviors have an impact on the environment and how they relate to other behaviors they should be doing.  This lack of a shared vision and big picture perspective can lead people to engage in contradictory behaviors that do not overall contribute to a sustainable future.

After participating in this workshop, I will try to keep the theories and strategies in the back of my mind as I observe behaviors and try to identify the barriers to behavior change.  I look forward to applying CBSM sometime in the near future!