Designing for positive behaviours

St Paul's Cathedral, London, England

By Heather Cameron

“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us” – Winston Churchill, 1943

This much borrowed saying from the former prime minister was made during the 1943 debate over the rebuilding of the House of Commons following its bombing during the Blitz. Although many were in favour of expanding the building to accommodate the greater number of MPs, Churchill insisted he would like it restored to its old form, convenience and dignity. He believed that the shape of the old Chamber was responsible for the two-party system which is the essence of British parliamentary democracy.

Indeed, it has since been widely acknowledged that the built environment has a direct impact on the way we live and work, thus affecting our health, wellbeing and productivity. A new report from the Design Commission, which opens with Churchill’s statement, is described as “a very valuable contribution” to the debate on how the design of the built environment can influence the way people think and behave, “making a healthier, happier and more prosperous and sustainable country”.

Impact of design

The report, which follows a year-long inquiry, is described as providing “solid evidence in difficult areas” on what it is in the built environment that makes people’s lives better. Evidence was gathered on four specific areas believed to be the most important to national policy:

  • health and wellbeing
  • environmental sustainability
  • social cohesion
  • innovation and productivity

It is suggested that design acts at two levels: it can affect individual choices of behaviour, which can then affect health and sustainability; and it can affect the way people are brought together or kept apart, which can then affect communication and creativity, or social cohesion.

The inquiry therefore looked into how people’s behaviour, health and wellbeing are affected by their surroundings; the role design can play in encouraging environmentally sustainable behaviours; the role design can play in social cohesion through its effects on creating or inhibiting co-presence in space; and how the design of work environments can drive innovation and improve efficiency, therefore tackling the current ‘productivity crisis’.

The evidence

The evidence highlights the built environment as “a major contributing factor to public health”. A range of public health issues, including air pollution and obesity, were suggested to be directly linked to factors within the built environment. Other recent research has similarly highlighted this link between health and urban design.

Evidence of the potential for design to positively influence sustainability behaviours, such as greater cycling and walking activity, was also highlighted, with New York cited as a good practice example.

Providing evidence on social cohesion, a senior university lecturer stated that “to divorce the physical from the social environment is inappropriate”. Other submissions referred to the “alienating effects” of various aspects of modern corporate life on civic participation, including estate management, crime and safety, the perceived negative impacts of poorly-conceived urban planning and poor or no maintenance.

Well-designed places, on the other hand, are suggested to improve access and facilitate social cohesion. Nevertheless, the evidence also noted that regardless of how well designed a place may be, “neglecting its aftercare will lead to antisocial behaviour and environmental damage.”

The relationship between the built environment and productive behaviours is supported by substantial evidence, according to the report. In the context of the UK, a lack of access to daylight and fresh air is cited as a reason for offices failing to get the best out of their workers. One study cited, indicated an increase in levels of both wellbeing and productivity in office environments with so-called ‘natural elements’.

Policy – “muddled and fragmented”

While there is evidence of good practice throughout the UK, a principal argument from the report is that more needs to be done.

Policy making for the built environment has traditionally been “muddled and fragmented”, according to the report. It suggests that there is a lack of understanding of the significance of the influence of the built environment on behaviour among policy makers at all levels and therefore makes recommendations for central government, local government and the private sector.

It argues that the relationship between government and local authorities requires reconsideration, calling for greater power at local government level.

Despite encouraging steps with regard to devolution in positively impacting behaviour and quality outcomes, such as in London, it is suggested that more can be done in terms of better collaboration between all stakeholders.

It is also noted that as national policy will be now be conducted in the context of Brexit, adaptation of the regulatory regime will be required.

Final thoughts

The key message from the Design Commission’s inquiry is evidently that the design of the built environment is particularly important in the context of current challenging times for the UK:

 “The way we design our built environment could be one of our greatest strengths in navigating the course ahead… If we get this right, we can build a Britain that is healthier, happier and more productive.”


If you enjoyed reading this, you may be interested in some of our previous posts on related topics:

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Why a holistic approach to public health and social care needs a wider evidence base … and how Social Policy and Practice can help

SPP screenshot2016 has been described as “make or break time for the NHS”, and with pressures on finances increasing, social care and public health are in the spotlight. Around £1 in every £5 of NHS spending is estimated to be the result of ill health attributable to the big five risk factors of smoking, alcohol, poor diet, obesity and inactivity. Investing in prevention, and understanding the complex wider community and social factors that lead to poor health, is therefore important. In cash-strapped local authorities however, investment in preventative projects can be sidelined in the face of tackling acute issues.

Prevention and behaviour change are linked

Recent health policy has included an expectation that individuals should take greater responsibility for their own health. But where we are talking about behaviour change, there is no quick fix. Glib use of the term ‘nudge’ to promote change can suggest that laziness is the only issue. However, research such as that by the King’s Fund has highlighted that motivation and confidence are essential if people are to successfully modify their health behaviours.

Practitioners within the field of both public health and social care need help understanding what works – but as two great recent blogs from the Alliance for Useful Evidence noted, change can be achieved in multiple ways and evidence shouldn’t be used to prove a service works but as part of a journey of improvement and learning.

We talk about the “caring professions”, but it seems that it can be difficult to maintain a focus on the ‘person not the patient’ when budgets are being cut. Well-reported issues such as the rise in the use of 15-minute home care appointments are just one symptom of this. More generally, making time to consider alternative approaches or learn from good practice elsewhere can be hard. That is where having access to a trusted database can help.

Trusted source of research and ideas

The Alliance for Useful Evidence, most recently in its practice guide to using research evidence, has highlighted the importance of using trusted sources rather than “haphazard online searches”. One of these resources is Social Policy and Practice, a database which we have contributed to for twelve years.

“SPP is useful for any professional working in the field of social care or social work who can’t get easy access to a university library.” Alliance for Useful Evidence, 2016

The partners who contribute to the database – Centre for Policy on Ageing, Idox Information Service, National Children’s Bureau, the NSPCC and the Social Care Institute for Excellence – are all committed to sharing their focused collections with the wider world of researchers and to influence policy and practice.

Social Policy and Practice is the UK’s only national social science database embracing social care, social policy, social services, and public policy. It boasts over 400,000 references to papers, books and reports and about 30% of the total content is grey literature.

Social Policy and Practice has been identified by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a key resource for those involved in research into health and social care. And importantly, it supports the ability to take a holistic approach to improving outcomes, by covering social issues such as poor housing, regeneration, active ageing, resilience and capacity building.


Find out more about the development of the Social Policy and Practice database in this article from CILIP Update. Update is the leading publication for the library, information and knowledge management community and they’ve given us permission to share this article.

If you are interested in using the Social Policy and Practice (SPP) database for evidence and research in health and social care, please visit www.spandp.net for more information and to request a free trial.

Read some of our other blogs on evidence use in public policy:

Performance appraisals – does the public sector need to be more innovative?

Innovation Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.By Heather Cameron

In a time of austerity, there is increasing pressure to get the best out of staff in order to improve organisational performance, particularly in the public sector.

Staff performance appraisals are a well-established practice in most organisations but there has been much debate over their effectiveness. Many say they are time-consuming and involve too much paperwork. Others say they are a key part of an organisation’s human resources strategy and align the strategy and objectives of an organisation with those of individuals, which is necessary for effective service delivery.

Why performance management?

A number of reasons have been highlighted for implementing performance management in any organisation, including:

  • to provide information on organisational and/or employee effectiveness and efficiency
  • to improve organisational and/or employee effectiveness and efficiency
  • to improve employees’ levels of motivation
  • to link employees’ pay with perceptions of their performance
  • to raise levels of employee accountability
  • to align employees’ objectives with those of the organisation

In the public sector, the aim of performance management is to motivate staff and managers to improve organisational performance and therefore effectively deliver services.

But while this may seem simple enough, is this what is happening in practice? Some would argue that performance appraisals have the opposite effect of motivating staff and lead to increased pressure and stress, resulting in poorer performance.

Concerns

A recent survey of over 25,000 civil servants highlighted widespread concern over how performance management is working in practice.  A huge majority (94%) said it was unfair that 10% of staff should be ranked as ‘must improve’, a recommendation that has been suggested to lead to discrimination against black and minority ethnic (BAME) staff, those who are disabled and part-time workers.

Performance appraisals have also been described as a “waste of time” or “tick-box exercise”.

Abhacken

The CIPD Employee outlook surveys have consistently revealed a general dissatisfaction with performance management practices among employees, with the most concern shown in the public sector. The most recent survey highlights a slump in job satisfaction and a lack of motivation among employees, and an increase in the number believing their performance management processes are unfair.

And this is not new. There have been concerns over the effectiveness of such systems in the public sector for some time. Research by the World Bank in 2003, which considered factors influencing better performance in public administration, concluded that performance management systems demonstrated remarkably little influence on anything and in some cases produced negative effects.

Lack of understanding

The literature suggests that the reasons for such criticism of performance appraisals more recently include: people generally don’t like to evaluate or be evaluated; the nature of public affairs being hard to quantify makes it difficult to develop performance objectives and measureable performance indicators; these systems tend to create more paperwork and increase both performance pressure and stress; and a lack of understanding of such systems among managers.

As a former chief executive of the Institute for Leadership and Management (ILM) emphasised:

“One of the skills that is often not developed is understanding what an appraisal is and why it is relevant to the whole organisation’s success… Being able to appraise is a fundamental management skill.”

So rather than scrapping them all together, perhaps a culture change within organisations is what is needed.

Good practice

Indeed, there have been signs of innovation within the public sector when it comes to performance appraisals.

An innovative approach to the employee appraisal form was taken by South Lakeland district council which has shown promising results. A personal qualities framework was created which was used to redesign the appraisal form. It was tested, staff were informed about it and line managers received training in how to use it.

After two years of the framework being introduced, peer reviews were good, their Investors in People award was the best yet, the staff survey highlighted many positive messages, and customer and member satisfaction had improved significantly.

Similarly, Wiltshire Council developed a successful transformation and ongoing culture change programme which resulted in significant efficiencies being delivered.

The council’s behaviours framework was developed to clarify social expectations of staff by defining ‘how’ staff are expected to approach work alongside ‘what’ they deliver. The behaviours have since been embedded into: a new on-line appraisals solution, job description templates, recruitment procedures, human resource policies and employee well-being initiatives, and corporate awards categories and selection criteria.

A training programme for all people managers also inspired new thinking and provided approaches and skills for performance managing for the behaviours, skills and objective setting.

Research by Nesta suggests that performance appraisal can also help to harness motivation to innovate in the public sector by valuing appropriate behaviours.

So perhaps staff appraisals have a future after all.


Read our previous blog post on performance-related pay in the public sector.

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Parental capacity to change: a new approach to child protection assessments

“Current assessments focus more on harm to the child and its causation than on capacity to change”

The assessments undertaken by social workers on children who are on the edge of care are significant. Very few, if any, assessments are straight forward; many cases are complex, with children and their families facing multiple social barriers, poverty, crime, addiction or mental health issues.

paper family on hand

Very little standardisation of practice exists and the pressure and scrutiny on social workers and their professional judgement can sometimes be unbearable. Increasingly there has been a development in the literature around child protection which suggests that social workers’ assessments should reflect the complexities of family life and should acknowledge efforts of parents to positively adapt their lifestyle in order to allow them to care for their child.

The parental capacity to change, as well as the capacity to parent effectively should be considered in these assessments.

Assessing a combination of motivation and ability, professionals it has been suggested, should work with parents to assess their readiness to accept or deny the need for change when completing their assessments. Provided that change can occur in an appropriate time frame for the child in question, professionals can work with the parents to achieve the best outcome for the child remaining with parents where possible, and returning to parents when possible, if additional action to change is necessary.

bambole di stoffa

C-Change Approach.
There has been a push of late to encourage social services to look at the needs of the parent as much as the needs of the child, and to offer support to families throughout the period the child is with them, particularly when the child has been returned to them after a period in social care.

This approach is about developing relationships between social workers and families and creating realistic, clear and accessible targets for parents, to show their change process, and progress,  and to build an understanding of what is expected of them, with the social worker acting as an assessor but also as a motivator and a facilitator to change. Plans should be long term to create stability and a solid goal, but should also be short term enough to show regular results to keep morale high and to regularly show positive progression.

This new long term approach seeks to change behaviour in parents, but evidencing behaviour change can be difficult. Previously, research suggested that parents changed in part, so as to re-gain custody of their children, but that after time they often relapse which led to the child being taken back into care. This inconsistent approach is something which government and the third sector are trying to address through relationship building and long term consistent and implemented strategies, although it is becoming increasingly difficult given the increased demands on budgets and calls for greater efficiency within the sector.

As a result, guidance on the C-Change model emphasises that there must also be tangible consequences for those who fail to comply or who relapse – it is about altering a mindset and a behaviour – and rewards should be agreed for milestones and achievements in the same way as consequences should be in place for non-compliance.

Image by Jerry Wong, via Creative Commons License

Image by xcode via Creative Commons

Shaking the negativity
The literature which considers parental capacity to change as a way to approach social work assessment highlights a common trend – the apparent failure of social services to provide sufficient support to parents and children once the child has been returned. This in turn, the research suggests, leads to more children being taken back into care.

This is often viewed negatively by the media, who are on the one hand critical of social services for being too quick to intervene and break up family units by removing children from their parents’ care, but on the other are highly critical of their practices and their reluctance or delay in removing children from abusive or distressing situations. This negativity translates into how they are viewed by the public.

Perhaps adopting this model of partnership and change promotion can be a way forward for children and their parents and a way for social workers to reform their practices to create a more standardised transparent way of working where they can share ideas and practice, work in partnership, and be recognised for the good they do and the safeguarding role they play for vulnerable people, rather than the criticism of their inconsistent working or un-compassionate approach, as some make out.


Our popular Ask-a-Researcher enquiry service is one aspect of the Idox Information Service, which we provide to members in organisations across the UK to keep them informed on the latest research and evidence on public and social policy issues. To find out more on how to become a member, get in touch.

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Talking rubbish: the never-ending problem of litter on Britain’s streets

In 1986, Margaret Thatcher launched a campaign to rid Britain of litter. Returning from a visit to Israel, the prime minister contrasted the spotless streets of Jerusalem with the littered pavements of London. Shortly afterwards, she appointed Richard Branson as Britain’s first ‘litter tsar’, who promised to set thousands of young unemployed people to work cleaning up the streets and clearing derelict sites.

Fast forward three decades, and the House of Commons Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee has found that litter remains as big and expensive a problem as ever. The cross-party committee estimates that the annual cost of cleaning up litter in England is around £850m, with chewing gum, smoking materials and fast food litter identified as the most frequently littered items.

Describing the problem as ‘endemic’, the Committee’s chairman, Clive Betts MP, said:

“Litter levels have remained largely static over the last 12 years, with councils spending hundreds of millions of pounds of tax-payers’ money fighting a losing battle.”

The Committee’s proposals for tackling the issue include allocating a portion of any increase in tobacco levies to local councils to help pay for the cost of street cleaning, and legislation compelling fast food shops and restaurants to keep their pavements free from rubbish. Although it stopped short of calling for a ‘chewing gum tax’, the Committee warned that the industry:

“…now has one last chance to put its house in order….by making a greater contribution to the cost of clearing gum and staining and by placing larger anti-littering notices on all its packaging, wrappers and adverts.”

Meanwhile, the government insists it is doing what it can to address the problem. In November, the Telegraph reported that ministers were planning a major push to achieve a cultural change towards dropping litter. Echoing Margaret Thatcher’s campaign, the plans were said to include a ‘clean up Britain day’, as well as making it easier for local councils to prosecute drivers throwing rubbish from their vehicles.

Litter can be an emotive issue, and for some the UK government’s proposals don’t go far enough. Giving evidence to the CLG Committee in January, the American writer David Sedaris recommended that litter louts be given heavy on-the-spot fines, noting that:

 “In Massachusetts there are now $10,000 fines for littering. It makes people think twice.”

More controversially, Sedaris, who now lives in West Sussex, suggested that poorer consumers were more likely to drop litter than wealthier shoppers:

 “I don’t see opera tickets in the street. There’s a Waitrose supermarket near where I live [yet] I found just one Waitrose bag last year. There’s also a Metro Tesco store and I find Tesco bags all the time….”

The writer’s observations sparked a debate on litter as a class issue, and whether Britain could learn from Singapore’s zero tolerance approach.

Although the CLG Committee’s report was confined to England, litter is a blight affecting the rest of the UK.  Launching its national litter strategy in 2014, the Scottish Government noted that at least £46 million of public money is spent removing litter and fly-tipping from the environment each year. And earlier this year a survey revealed that there was more litter in Northern Ireland’s streets and parks in 2014 than there has been in a decade.

Meanwhile, back in Israel, the country that Mrs Thatcher once held up as a litter-free model for the UK, things seem to be going downhill. The Tel Aviv daily newspaper Haaretz has observed a growing impression that:

“… almost everywhere in urban areas, and even in open areas. Israel is full of filth, and it looks like the situation is not about to improve anytime soon.”

The paper reported on one campaigner’s efforts to chronicle the problem:

“In one short walk near the Old City walls in Jerusalem, one of the most important tourist sites on earth, he found 641 pieces of trash. The inventory ranged from dog droppings to cigarette butts.”

Tackling litter, it seems, is a worldwide work in progress.


The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on environmental issues. To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading

Hidden cost of litter spoiling the environment

How clean is England? The local environmental quality survey of England 2013/14

How clean are our streets? All Wales local environment audit and management system report 2012-13 and 2013-14

Time to kick butts (cigarette end litter)

A new front in the war against waste

Recycling Point

Photograph: Anne Burgess, via Wikimedia Commons

By James Carson

This summer the European Commission announced new measures on waste management. The proposals include a target to recycle 70% of municipal solid waste by 2025. The Commission believes that turning Europe into a “circular economy” will have multiple benefits, including:

  • preventing the loss of valuable materials;
  • creating jobs and economic growth;
  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impacts.

The proposed measures add to the waste management challenges already facing local authorities. Under an existing EU directive, councils must achieve a household recycling target of 50% by 2020. Most have invested heavily in waste and recycling services over the past two decades, greatly improving the national waste recycling rate.

But recently progress has stalled. The UK’s recycling rate in 2013 was 46%, but in England the rate slipped back to 43.2%, while in Scotland the figure was 41.2%. Only a 52.3% figure from Wales prevented the UK recycling rate falling further.  The UK figures are in stark contrast to municipal recycling rates in other European countries.  In Austria, 63% of household waste is recycled, while Germany (62%) and Belgium (58%) are well on their way to achieving the 70% target many years ahead of schedule.

One local authority taking the war against waste to householders’ doorsteps is Croydon Council. Recycling officer, Joanna Dixon, believes community engagement is at the core of improving the rate of recycling, as she explained to Materials Recycling World (MRW):

 “We analysed a lot of data and identified those households [with low or non-existent recycling rates] and then knocked on doors to find out why.”

At the same time, Croydon’s householders were informed that non-compliance with recycling regulations would result in an £80 penalty. As a result, participation in recycling leapt from 0% to 69%.

Other councils, however, regard the enforcement element in the carrot-and-stick approach with caution. Ealing Council’s cabinet member for environment and transport. Bassam Mahfouz, told MRW:

“Fining people might work if it is a really bad recycling area where they would fear the possibility of getting a penalty. But it is a very short-term solution, and those people would not be recycling for the right reason.”

Continue reading

Do people think rationally… or do they need a nudge?

brain with nudge ideas

by Alan Gillies

One of the benefits of working in any information service, and in the IDOX Information Service in particular, is the way you tend to find relevant information in unexpected sources. Thus, for example, we recently came across an interesting article on behaviour change, not in a psychology or management journal, but in the most recent issue of Environmental Health News.

“Until the 1970s it was generally accepted that people were rational in their thinking…” claims the article, before going on to outline the development of ‘nudge’ theory which aims to use subtle methods to encourage people to change their behaviour rather than relying on a rational decision Continue reading