Having done this whole behaviour change thing around food since 2011, Youth Food Movement Australia was invited to share its secret sauce at Jetpack Beluga’s sustainable food event. Here are a few highlights from the night, for all the people out there dreaming of becoming food campaigners, educators or change makers. Because if we know why people change their behaviour, then we can use that knowledge to build truly effective campaigns, businesses, and communities which make the world better.

In coming and talking today, we didn’t want to simply tell you about the food system. Our approach to working in food is how we enable others to be change makers in food. We create spaces where people come together, talk, share, exchange skills and knowledge and in doing that create a movement around food.

In the spirit of that, and of being surrounded by people who fully have the capacity to change the food system in Wollongong, we wanted to share some exceptionally useful pieces of knowledge we’ve learnt, so that you can take those skills and apply them to whatever you’re passionate about.

Let’s dig in.

Think of an actual person

This is an exercise for us to start having a look at what we believe will change a person’s behaviour. So we can get these ideas out onto the table and then have a chat about them.

Intro Sophie/Luke. She/he’s a student at Uni of Wollongong, studies Science part time, and works at General Pants. Recently came back from Thailand and Laos for holidays, is in second year, lives in a share house with 2 people. They eat out at uni pub or a friends for pizza 3 nights a week. When they’re home, they eat pasta with a pre-made sauce, a frozen meal/takeaway and goes home to eat at parents one day a week.

Why do you think he/she eats the way he/she eats?

Say we want to change one behaviour – we want them to cook at home, from scratch, 3 or 4 times a week. What could we do to change this behaviour?

Bust your assumptions

So all of these things are based off what we have guessed about Sophie/Luke. Assumptions are really normal and they’re the foundation of what we do but we also need to call them out.

However if we want long-term, sustained change, then the following assumptions just won’t work (how many of them are on your list about Sophie/Luke?).

There is overwhelming evidence that humans rarely change for these reasons, according to behaviour change expert Les Robinson. We want to believe these things but they’re not true.

  • people will act in accordance with their values eg. pay significantly more for milk
  • people will change if they learn the correct facts eg. food waste
  • people will change if we sell the case harder eg. Marley Spoon on FB
  • people will change if they feel enough pain eg. alcohol
  • people will change if they are shocked into action eg. animal welfare
  • people will change if the rewards are big enough eg. climate change + dairy

Let go back to what we know works. What is there hard concrete proof for working? We ourselves are hard concrete proof of what works because we’ve all changed a behaviour at some time or other.

Take 3 minutes and do a quick reflection on why you came here this evening. I assume you don’t come here every Tuesday night. What were the factors that meant that you found yourself with your butts on these chairs this evening? What drove you to be here and to change your ordinary Tuesday night behaviour?

So what works?

So we’re starting to see some factors which we have evidence for working. That evidence is that you’re here tonight.

In the context of all this, let’s look at what factors research has proven works, from the book Changeology (examples ours):

  • Positive buzz – KONY, The Bachelorette
  • An offer of hope – climate change
  • An enabling environment – AA meetings
  • A sticky solution – solar power
  • Expand comfort zones – no lights no lycra
  • The right inviter – someone you trust and relate to, asks you

Other takeaways

  • Get one target and stick to it. You don’t have to do them all. eg. Who Gives a Grap OR Tupperware.
  • Be conscious of which one thing that is and keep it in the front of your head. Come back to these when you’re brainstorming. It’s really easy to be distracted by assumptions which don’t work.
  • Collect change stories. If you’re asking people to donate to a charity, ask the people who already do and understand why. It’s so simple but it’s so forgotten.
  • Change is hard. We want to change the world but we need to recognise, for most people, change is scary. Not because they’re idiots or because they don’t care, but often deep down asking people to change is asking them to face potential humiliation. Think of the first time you told people you were vegetarian, or vegan – the reaction to that shit can be big.
  • We are better change makers when we realise that ppl usually have legitimate reasons for not changing (often around humiliation) and we need to have respect for the reasons they don’t change and then figure out how we can create the right environment for people to change themselves.

Resonating? You’d probably be a rad Youth Food Movement volunteer!

Image credit: Alex Lee Jackson at Cropfest

Youth Food Movement