Six steps to undertaking a climate behaviour change project

Looking at the six steps you can take to begin a behaviour change project to tackle climate change in your community.

Step 1: Before you do anything else, think precisely about the behaviour that you are trying to change - what, who, where, when, how?
  • What behaviour are you trying to change? This will include a specific behaviour with a clear measurable outcome
  • Whose behaviour are you trying to change? This may include different demographics. Climate Outreach recently identified seven segments characterising the UK population in relation to their climate views, and have published their ‘golden questions’ for segmentation
  • Where are you trying to change the behaviour? The location or context in which you wish to change the behaviour in
  • When are you trying to change the behaviour? The time of day, week, month or year at which it would be most important to change behaviour, and
  • How often are you trying to change the behaviour? The frequency – this may be every hour, every day, week, month, or year, or at a specific life event e.g moving house.

For example...

  • What behaviour are you trying to change? To increase recycling of food waste by 10 per cent
  • Whose behaviour are you trying to change? 21-30-year-old males
  • Where are you trying to change the behaviour? Those who live in x ward
  • When are you trying to change the behaviour? March 2021-June 202
  • How often are you trying to change the behaviour? After every meal eaten inside the home
Step 2: Understand what is driving the current behaviour

This is where you gather information to understand what is driving the behaviour, or if there are any barriers to completing the behaviours for an individual or group.

You should be looking for what people are actually doing and why they behave in this way, not what they should do.

You can use a model called COM-B ('capability', 'opportunity', 'motivation' and 'behaviour') to diagnose whether the drivers of behaviour may fall in someone’s capability, opportunity or motivation to complete the behaviour. Simple explanations can be found beneath and further context  of the Behaviour Change Wheel framework can be found in The behaviour change wheel: A new method for characterising and designing behaviour change interventions.

This model will provide a live understanding of how residents are behaving at the moment. You could ask individuals through a survey, a focus group, an interview, a questionnaire, an observation, or any other research method, to understand what the barriers to doing (or not doing) the behaviour are.

The following table outlines some enablers to performing the behaviour which you may like to consider in your research.


COM-B Description
Psychological capability

This is knowledge whereby someone knows what to do and how.

  • Memory, decision making and paying attention
  • Interpersonal skills – how to negotiate with family and friends
  • Action planning - setting goals which are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. Look into how to monitor whether you are achieving the goal
Physical capability

Any set of physical actions that require an ability or proficiency learned through practice. This includes:

  • Skills
  • Strength
  • Stamina
Physical opportunity

Anything real or abstract which enables or prevents a behaviour.

This may include:

  • Time
  • Resources – the right materials, objects and equipment
  • Location
  • Prompts/cues
  • Tools and techniques
Social opportunity

This comprises anything to do with social influences including how we behave in relation to others. Questions you might ask include:

  • What do the people I spend time with do?
  • Do I need more people around me doing it?
  • What do people think of me if I act in this way?
  • What do people think I should do?
  • What do my superiors think I should do?
  • Do I need more support from others?
  • Do my friends encourage me to?
  • What are the cultural norms?
  • Is there social pressure to act in a certain way?
  • What are the social norms?
  • What is the group identity?
  • Where does the power lie?
  • Do others observe you doing (or not doing) the behaviour?
  • Are there local champions for this behaviour?
Automatic motivation

Conscious – how much I want to do the behaviour and the perceived consequences. This may include:

  • Plans (intentions) - if they are acted on, they need to regenerate the belief that it was a good idea
  • Beliefs (an acceptance that something exists or is true) and attitudes (a settled way of thinking or feeling about something) – is it still a belief or an attitude?
  • Your identity, ethics, values system, your own goals and / or things you enjoy
Reflective motivation

Unconscious – an impulse or urge to act in a particular way. This may include:

  •  An emotional or stress response, an anxiety or fear
  •  A habit, an autopilot or a craving
  •  Wants and needs – is it still needed or wanted?
Step 3: Choosing your intervention

Step 3. Choosing your intervention

Once you have understood what is driving behaviour, you can choose an intervention type which is likely to change the behaviour.

An intervention is a strategy we use to change someone’s behaviour.

What intervention types are available to you?

This table describes the name of the intervention type, what it means and a concrete example of what it might look like when applied to an environmental challenge.

What intervention types are available to you?
Intervention type Description Example
Education Increasing knowledge and understanding by informing, explaining, showing and providing feedback

Explaining that UK households produced just under 27 million tonnes of waste in 2017. That's equivalent to 409 kg per person - roughly the weight of four adult giant pandas.

Persuasion Using words and images to change the way people feel about a behaviour to make it more or less attractive

A campaign saying “Why are you tossing litter around here? Don’t be a tosser. You brought your rubbish here, please take it home with you.” This induces amusement and shame at the same time.

Incentivisation Changing the attractiveness of a behaviour by creating the expectation of a desired outcome or avoidance of an undesired one Providing a reminder that “If you remember to turn off your lights in rooms which you are not in, you’ll save on your electricity bill.”
Coercion Changing the attractiveness of a behaviour by creating the expectation of an undesired outcome or denial of a desired one A monetary fine for fly tipping
Training Increasing the skills needed for a behaviour by repeated practice and feedback A video on how to ride a bike safely on the roads
Restrictions Constraining performance of a behaviour by setting rules Setting yourself a rule to only use your car for journeys which take longer than 30 mins (if you were walking)

Environmental restructuring

Constraining or promoting behaviour by shaping the physical or social environment

Create segregated cycling lanes on the roads to reduce the proximity to cars and other vehicles

Modelling Showing examples of the behaviour for people to imitate A local leader running a class on how to cook a healthy and tasty meal which does not include meat, and in doing so, role modelling a behaviour
Enablement Providing support to improve ability to change in a variety of ways not covered by other intervention types Provide recycling bins/bags/compostable bags/boxes to residents’ doors
Step 4: I know what is driving the behaviour. I know what intervention types I could use. How do I put them together?

The blue boxes indicate which intervention types have been most successful in past behavioural change projects, depending on what you have found to be the biggest drivers for change, or barriers to changing your behaviour. Each COM-B element matches with its most appropriate intervention type.

For example, if I know that a barrier to litter picking with the community on a Saturday morning is that I do not have the physical opportunity to do so safely, I might use the enablement intervention and provide a litter picker (see the ‘x’ in the box beneath).

Picture describing behaviour change. The blue boxes indicate which intervention types have been most successful in past behavioural change projects, depending on what you have found to be the biggest drivers for change, or barriers to changing your behaviour.
Behaviour change

Step 5: What happens if you end up with too many options, and you cannot choose between the intervention types?

Whilst you can use more than one intervention example, you can use a set of criteria called APEASE applied to the interventions which you are considering. These may help you decide which intervention/s to use given your local context:

The APEASE criteria

Affordability – can it be delivered within an acceptable budget?
Practicability – can it be delivered as designed and to scale?
Effectiveness – how well does it work in your locality?
Acceptability – is it judged appropriate to relevant stakeholders and potential users?
Side effects/safety – does it have positive or negative side effects or unintended consequences?
Equity – will it reduce or increase disparities in health, wellbeing or standard of living?

Step 6: How can you measure whether your intervention has worked?

Think about your evaluation from the outset to make sure that your behaviours are measurable. How will you measure if you achieved the behaviour change which you set out to achieve in stage one?

Practical things to consider:

  • What resources do you need to measure whether your intervention has worked? This may include money, time and staff resources
  • What type of data can you use? Can you make use of existing data?
  • Do you have a baseline of behaviour, also known as baseline data, to measure whether the behaviour has changed?
  • Have you considered GDPR issues?
  • Can you compete a questionnaire, an online survey, a focus group or a series of qualitative interviews?
  • At which points in the process will you evaluate the project? Ongoing evaluation is ideal.
  • Will you need to complete and Equality Impact Assessment form to make sure your intervention is fair/equitable and is not discriminating against any group?

Who are the participants?

You could use one of the following options to evaluate whether your intervention has worked:

A randomised control trial

  • You will need to randomly assign those who will receive the intervention and those who will not.
  • Those who do not receive the intervention will be called the control group.
  • Those who receive the intervention will be called the treatment group.
  • Compare the results of the control and the treatment group using an appropriate statistical test to see if the intervention has worked.

Top tip: Consider whether it is ethical to apply the changes to one group and not the other.

A controlled before and after study

  • You will take a baseline measure of the prevalence of the behaviour within the same group of people both before applying the intervention, and afterwards.
  • What was the outcome before the intervention? What was the outcome after the intervention?

Interrupted time series design

  • You will gather data at many points whilst you are applying the intervention
  • Over the time period of applying the intervention, have you seen a behaviour change?
  • Could it be attributable to the intervention, or another variable happening at the same time?

Broader questions to consider

  • Was the intervention received in the way it was intended?
  • How did the target group experience the intervention?
  • In what way did the intervention have an effect?
  • Did it contribute to a broader outcome?
  • Were there any unintended consequences (positive and negative)?
  • Was it cost effective?
  • Did it have a different impact for different groups of people?


Top tips

  • Follow up on whether the intervention is still making a difference six months to a year after finishing the initial trial period
  • In evaluation, go back to the behavioural analysis to see if the barriers are the same after you have delivered your behavioural change intervention
  • Think about your evaluation from the outset to make sure your behaviours are measurable
  • Be open and explicit about the research method with your participants.

How can we apply this six step guide to our local climate behavioural challenges?

A series of climate change behavioural challenges can be found in this resource. Each will need to be modified for your local behavioural diagnosis and context but they provide a starting point for thinking about the behaviour which you want to change, the questions you may wish to consider in your behavioural diagnosis and examples of interventions to set you well on your way to making local changes.

The behaviours include those which we can change in our own homes, in the community, consumption and travel. It is a not a comprehensive list of green behaviours but using the format, you can hopefully apply it to any behaviour which you wish to change.