The digital age – how have our lives improve through digital behaviour interventions?

Have you ever been ‘elbow-ed’ by one of your friends? Maybe it was to push you to answer a teacher’s question or to introduce yourself to a new person. That in itself is a form of nudge!

These days, nudges come in different forms – even digitally! Given the digital age we live in today, there has been a rise in the implementation of digital behavioural interventions. 

Have you ever forgotten a doctor’s appointment that you scheduled months ago but were suddenly reminded by a text reminder notification on your phone? Appointment reminders have been used in hospitals frequently to curb no-show rate. This is an example of a nudge to increase the propensity of showing up for medical appointments. The behavioural cue used here is ‘Persuasion’. 

SMS text reminders have been demonstrated to be very effective in changing behaviours such as ‘no-shows’ and have been found to be very cost-effective, saving hospitals and medical centres millions of dollars. 

Appointments are but just one way of reminder. Think of exercise trackers or even the role of the media! 

Activity tracker on a woman’s wrist; Shutterstock ID 242344369; PO: today.com

But one might ask how this leads to behaviour change –  well, as one receives the reminder text on their phone, there are various psychological aspects of persuasion in play here. Tailored appointment reminders help one to feel more in control of their desired behaviour.

Additionally, this act of persuasion influences an individual’s decision-making, which then motivates them to act desirably, therefore leading to behaviour change (i.e. showing up for the scheduled appointment).


Yet, with all the pros, there are also the cons. Increasingly with more notifications from all sorts of apps, such updates may not become an irritant instead of useful. In fact, we sometimes “clear” these notifications without wondering that they are, so perhaps it might also be useful to slow down and dispensable notifications or updates that you do not need.

Just another example of how nudges can be low resource-intensive and time-efficient. Can you think of other digital interventions around you that have helped you change your behaviour?

Sometimes nudges are all around us – do you notice them?

What safety prompts and triggers have you noticed on roads while driving around the country? One of the most important road safety measures were implemented in the 1900s. Can you guess what it is? – Yes, it is the speed bump!

Did you know that speed bumps, humps and rumble lines act as a nudge for vehicles to slow down? As a driver, you notice this ‘obstacle’ from a distance and begin to engage the brake pedal to slow down your vehicle. 

While a nudge can help in the reinforcement of a desired behaviour or encouraging a form of behaviour, it can also help in the deterrence of a behaviour.

The behavioural cue used in this intervention is the restructuring of the environment. Through modifying the original environment (i.e. the implementation of a speed bump), a particular behaviour (i.e. vehicle speeding) is discouraged. 

The behavioural cue used in this intervention is the restructuring of the environment. Through modifying the original environment (i.e. the implementation of a speed bump), a particular behaviour (i.e. vehicle speeding) is discouraged. 

But why is this a widespread and effective nudge? It is so because this simple road safety intervention incorporates several mechanisms of behaviour change, such as – reducing motivation and reducing the intention to act on the behaviour (i.e. vehicle speeding).

Another characteristic of this nudge is the fear-based appeal. As a driver approaches the speed bump, it evokes threat and fear arousals which demotivates the driver to speed as a result of the predicted consequences such as engaging in an accident. Studies have shown that speed humps, similar to roundabouts, help to reduce the incidence of accidents.

As drivers approach and witness these speed humps daily, not only does behaviour change gradually but habitual behaviour starts to form too!  In fact, this does not even have to be real humps – check out these “floating humps” in Iceland!

As drivers approach and witness these speed humps daily, not only does behaviour change gradually but habitual behaviour starts to form too!  

What other nudges have you noticed around you that made you reconsider a particular undesirable behaviour?

Have you seen these ‘Giant Exercise Machines’ around?

Ever forced yourself to sign up for a one-year gym membership to motivate yourself to exercise but found yourself attending less than 5 sessions a year?

Sometimes, passive nudges such as providing and/or promoting a viable alternative at the time choice can strongly encourage you to pursue a healthier option! Check this out!

In Singapore, the Health Promotion Board placed eye-catching stickers on staircases located within MRT stations in 2011. It was with the aim of encouraging commuters to use the stairs instead of the escalators and lifts. This ‘giant exercise machine’ as described by HPB, provided an easily available and accessible alternate exercise opportunity for daily train commuters. 

The two behavioural cues used here are: (1) restructuring the environment (i.e. placing stickers on stairs to increase its visibility and attractiveness) and (2) enablement (i.e. positioning the intervention in MRT trains where there is high human traffic). These behavioural cues consequently motivate us to choose the alternative mode – the staircase. But I guess you might ask the question – why do we become more motivated to perform the desirable health behaviour? 

As depicted in the diagram above, the presence of a physical opportunity (e.g. environmental restructuring) can influence our motivation, intentions and eventually lead to desirable behaviour change (i.e. walking up the stairs instead of using the lifts and escalators). 

By presenting the positive effect to you, making the choice to walk up using stairs now become a lot more enticing or attractive. I mean, who doesn’t want to look good on the go yeah?

All in all, this is another good example of how a simple tweak in the appearance of a staircase can nudge people to adopt healthier behaviours!  

How do we incorporate behavioural cues within our green interventions?

Our pretty cool sustainability corner at the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 2018

Many a times when we think of changing one’s behaviour, we think about going big and going out of our comfort zones. Sometimes, all it takes is to implement small nudges to create a wave of behaviour change. On the topic of waste diversion, there are several behavioural factors that determine waste diversion –  these include infrastructure, environmental attitudes, social norms and sorting knowledge. 

As seen in the picture below, these are some of the nudges we implemented on site at one of our events. The volunteers and the visual aids (i.e. large 2D recycling signage) were employed to encourage participants to engage in proper recycling etiquette. So, the two behavioural cues used here are (1) Volunteers’ presence and (2) 2D signage. 

Research evidence has shown that volunteer assistance was found to be a significantly effective method in reducing contamination in waste streams at public events (Zelenika et al., 2018). It was argued that with volunteer staff guarding the recycling and composting bins and simultaneously verbally instructing participants on which items to locate in each bin, they acted as a strong prompt to throw items correctly. 

He nudged all the way from the Netherlands!

A physical presence at bins increases the visibility of one’s actions – so your every move will be watched! This particular nudge inadvertently evokes small behaviour changes among the participants through the act of walking towards the bins and disposing their items accordingly. This can be seen as changing behaviour through social norms, environmental awareness and motivating one’s intentions to divert waste responsibly. 

We designed boards that tell you what you should put in, so you don’t have to think when you see us after a tiring run.

The second behavioural cue is the use of large 2D signage. This subtle nudge does a lot more than it may seem! The large visual aid appeals to participants visually and provokes thoughts within an individual. The resulting actions of pausing, looking and understanding the written words are exactly what triggers behaviour change! Additionally, it also acts as a directional prompt to lure people to the bin area. 

Say hi to our friendly volunteers!

These are just a few examples of how changing behaviour can be simple and feasible! Looking for ways to incorporate behavioural elements in your activities? Fret not, take a step back and consider the small nudges you might have otherwise not considered! 

Can KFC’s move to reduce straws make any difference?

KFC Singapore’s announcement in June 2018 to eliminate plastic straws at its restaurants island wide makes it the first fast food outlet in Singapore to take a step towards the environment.

Unlike other organisations who have pledged to go green, which usually refers their pledges to infrastructural changes, (which tends to come along with newer buildings anyway), KFC’s move may be considered to be bold or unusual one as it is an intentional move that would affect its entire operations. But is it a really effective one?

 

Yes, it is

At its dine-in outlets, this measure was being enforced by staff and the straw dispensers are noticeably absent from the counters.

A scan over 5 different outlets showed that there has been some degree of success in reducing the use of straws and lids. Counters also displayed signs that plastic lids and straws were no longer given out. During our visit to one outlet, one staff was overheard telling customers that straws are no longer provided in their outlets.

Based on our observation, there did not appear to be any drop in customer flow. And people simply drank from the cup directly. Perhaps just as how studies from local social enterprise The Final Straw have shown, the majority of people are indeed comfortable without using straws.

Till date, there hasn’t been any large scale demonstrations or uproar over KFC’s measures. In fact, general sentiments towards the move have largely been supportive, with some hoping that this can be followed by other fast food outlets.

 

No, it was not effective

Yet there were also instances of customers in restaurants who were seen eating from takeaway bags which features covered drinks (KFC’s measures only apply to dine in customers), so it may appear that some customers might have tried to circumvent the policy by claiming to takeaway their food.

At takeaway outlets, this measure did not affect its current policy of covering cups and lids so the measure appears to be limited in effectiveness. Nonetheless, there was a sign placed in the counter informing customers that no straws will be given. Thus, one can argue that there is a level of consistency with the broader message being sent even at these outlets.

Perhaps the largest form of outburst noticed would be in cybersphere where a bulk of social media comments had criticised the move. While not all comments wereinsightful, some had seen the move as cost cutting masked with an environmental front. Although this may not be as widely viewed by the public, this does reveal an alternative view that organisations need to be mindful, particularly when announcements such as these could affect their corporate image, even if these claims are untrue.

 

Verdict

KFC’s moves are largely symbolic because it is not altogether going disposable free. Even though this is not the first time it has announced such a policy – it has announced similar initiative in Indonesia, most of its containers were still using plastic disposables, such as for whipped potato, coleslaw and rice bowls. In this regard, while the move is expected to reduce the amount of plastic straws generated, its impact can be limited.

Where KFC has made an impact is this. By reducing the amount of plastic straws and not replacing them with some other materials, KFC is aware that it is the reduction of use that could be more useful to the environment. Its willingness to cut back on a tangible material that is being used in its daily operations also highlights its commitment to be environmental friendly. It is not afraid to go where some organisations have gone and thus could be seen to be a major win from the policy perspective.

Arguably straws are not really its main staple – people come to KFC for its fried chicken and not drinks. In fact, if done well, this could be aligned with its ‘finger lickin good’ slogan. Much is still to be seen whether KFC can do away with other parts of its offering such as replacing disposable trays with in-house plates (such as in outlets in other countries), or going one step further to tackle environmental issues that are closer to its cause – chicken (but that’s another story)

 

Hmm, where did the straws go?

One question remains though. Since KFC’s announcement, how it does intend to tackle its excess straws? It’s red and blue straws cannotbe given to other fast food outlets, neither is it acceptable to be disposed of in bulk (we hope). So where do all the rest of the straws go? We suspect this will still be given out upon request, especially for takeaway orders.

 

Final Words

KFC’s measures when viewed on its own, might seem like a drop in the (plastic) ocean. But its move sends a strong signal that companies no longer can ignore the issue. They themselves have a responsibility to play in the while ecosystem. Indeed, when organisations themselves disrupt the current system, they are able to effect a greater change to societal norm. And we hope KFC will be the first of many.