HomeBehaviour changeChange strategies: start where people are

Change strategies: start where people are

This is a guest post by Chris Rose, Director of Campaign Strategy Limited, in response to a challenge by Professor Tim Kasser at Knox College, Illinois, and Dr Tom Crompton at WWF-UK.

It is part of a pair of articles debating how to promote greener living.

The article by Tom Crompton and Tim Kasser misrepresents our views. I am a campaign and communications consultant and use Cultural Dynamics Strategy and Marketing (CDSM)’s values mapping system because I have found that it works.  Like many communications practitioners I have found that the approach advocated by Common Cause – trying to change people’s values or attitudes and beliefs by arguing with them or telling them they are wrong, does not work. 

It is not necessary to try and ‘improve’ a whole population, or “change their minds”, to bring about good things through campaigning, even if that were possible. Almost no decisions of importance involve an entire nation agreeing both on what should be done and why it should be done.  Politics is the art of the possible because you often have to garner support from people who disagree on many things, in order to make progress on one.  Similarly, businesses succeed if their products or services are bought for many different reasons.  Effective campaign designs target the fewest number of people possible in order to take the actions needed to achieve the objective.

Surveying people
CDSM  asks 8,500 real British people over 1,000 questions and maps the results as statistically connected sets of attitudes and beliefs. Environics (Canada) and Sinus Mileu/Sociovision (Germany/ France) also have large dataset population models which are used by companies and others because they work in practice.  These models have common research roots – they started by looking at what was actually happening in society and then, when they plotted the results, it became apparent that the big differences matched the groups in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Not the other way around – they did not start with Maslow’s theory.

They break society down into three broad categories of people, who have different motivations arising from their dominant unmet needs: Settlers (who are broadly security driven), Prospectors (driven more by success and the esteem of others) and Pioneers (more inner-directed).

Many of the academic studies Tom Crompton cites are based on very small samples, often of young people (students).  Instead of trying to use theories based on these studies to criticise our work, WWF could use CDSM’s model in a realistic campaign test to see if it can persuade real outer-directed Prospectors, or security-driven Settlers, to change behaviours for inner-directed Pioneers reasons. I would be delighted if groups such as WWF could get them to abandon their sets of attitudes and beliefs and adopt the Pioneer tendencies towards emphasising universalism, care for nature, doing things for ethical reasons (etc) but all my experience is that it does not happen – see for example

Sadly, many Pioneer-framed NGO campaigns (e.g. tcktck) are inadvertent tests of this notion, reaching only those who are already like the green messengers

We do not claim that getting an individual Prospector to take an environmentally desirable action such as buying a greener car (the example used in Crompton’s letter to psychologists) will sufficiently satisfy their esteem needs to convert them into Pioneers.

Values can change
Eventually the net experiences of their lives do lead some of them to become Pioneers.  This is reflected not just in the growth over time of the Pioneer segment of the UK population (now over 40%) but the way younger cohorts start out more as Settlers, then Prospectors and then stretch across the three Maslow Groups into the Pioneers. See CDSM data on age at Note that students are more Pioneer than non-students – presumably because they have had more esteem-giving experiences. These age differences are also reflected in Inglehart’s measurements of generational scale changes for numerous countries (

Nor of course do we advocate simply promoting attitudes like it’s important to ‘get more stuff’. But to get more ‘environmentally friendly behaviour’ you are going to have to make it more fun and rewarding in Prospector terms, to get more of it from Prospectors.

There is evidence – summarised in Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion – that taking an action tends to shape our opinions: this is called the “Consistency Heuristic”. People’s opinions tend to come into line with their actions: they think “because I am sane, what I am doing must make sense.”

So our green car buying Prospector may be expected to develop opinions consistent with green cars making sense – for example buying a green car is a smart purchase [i.e. it makes me look smart] – and there is a good reason to have one [e.g. climate change exists].  And they are more likely to repeat a similar action so long as it is inside their values set.  CDSM’s data set measures 100 different aspects of peoples values sets.

If and when they change to become Inner Directed then you can start using a different campaign pitch – e.g. do it because to help a farmer in Bangladesh. But it’s unrealistic to think you can provide them with enough esteem-giving experiences to do that through NGO campaigns.

Changing behaviour then opinion creates an opportunity to capture and utilise that opinion in a campaign.  For example by getting ‘green car’ buyers to voice opinions about what a good idea green cars are, and then projecting those views at politicians via polling etc. In advertising it’s sometimes called ‘catching people doing something good’.  But to do that we first need to get the people to take the action. You are unlikely to get an outer-directed person to do that by telling them they are wrong to want status. You need to start from where people are, not where you are.

Read Tim Kasser and Tom Crompton’s article

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Green Alliance is a charity and independent think tank focused on ambitious leadership and increased political support for environmental solutions in the UK. This blog provides space for commentary and analysis around environmental politics and policy issues as they affect the UK. The views of external contributors do not necessarily represent those of Green Alliance.