The value-action gap – the crux of the problem

Solve this and save the world. Partially anyway.

We ‘love animals’ but buy cheap, factory-farmed meat. We want to reduce our carbon emissions, but drive because the train is a hassle. We want to reduce single-use plastic, but refill shops are few and far between. We know our phones and clothes are made in sweatshops but push that out of our minds. We shake our heads in response to global injustices but rarely write to our MP demanding action.

In short, we care but we don’t do.

This is the value-action gap and we NEED to address it to save the world.

Mind the Gap | Reminder on the platform at Paddington Statio ...

There are a few different reasons why values don’t translate into action:

Lack of ease – I think, at least in the past, this has been best exemplified well by recycling. ‘Plastic can be recycled. But only hard plastic. And only if separated from any paper constituents of the packaging. And only if cleaned.’ Who but the most dedicated / fastidious is going to do that?!

Lack of time – making eco-conscious choices takes time and planning. Yes you could cycle to the station, to get the train, change at a few obscure stops across the country, wait while there are line repairs, wait for a bus at the other end and walk the last 20 mins. Or you could just drive.

Lack of motivation – this can be linked to a lack of knowledge. You may not have thought twice about the material your straw was made out of until you watched Blue Planet and then immediately saw plastic as a dolphin-killer.

In it’s Behaviour Change Toolkit for Practitioners, RARE (Centre for Behaviour Change and the Environment) lumps the first two (ease and time) together and adds in a ‘Socialize’ strategy. Their toolkit, therefore, is:

  1. Motivate the Change (Leverage positive emotions; Frame messaging to personal values, identities, or interests; Personalize and humanise messages; Harness cognitive biases; Design behaviourally-informed incentives)
  2. Socialise the Change (Promote the desirable norm; Harness reciprocity; Increase behavioral observability and accountability; Encourage public and peer-to-peer commitments; Choose the right messenger)
  3. Ease the Change (Make it easy by removing frictions and promoting substitutes; Provide support with planning and implementation of intentions; Simplify messages and decisions; Alter the choice setting; Use timely moments, prompts and reminders).

More on this to come…