Guest blog on “Behaviour change for pubs and bars”

I was asked to write something for the Society for the Study of Addiction about our Nudging Pubs work in changing the behaviour of pubs and bars.

My guest post was on the two theoretical foundations of our project: a taxonomy of behaviour change tools, and a typology of nudges. The first is a UCL-led project, the second is from Cambridge University’s Behaviour and Health Research Unit.

Read the post at SSA’s website.


A typology of nudges

We’re working on an assessment tool to use with pubs and bars. The tool is meant to measure how welcoming the venues are to their non-drinking (or “less-drinking”) customers. We have been pondering all the various factors we could include in the tool, and how to classify them.

Having met some people from the Behaviour and Health Research Unit (BHRU) at Cambridge, they pointed me to their paper “Altering micro-environments to change population health behaviour: towards an evidence base for choice architecture interventions” in BMC Public Health. It could just help us get some of our ideas in order too.

The article has a nice typology for “choice architecture interventions in micro-environments”; I’ll just call them nudges from now on. There are nine types of nudges in this scheme:

    • Ambience (aesthetic or atmospheric aspects of the environment)
    • Functional design (design or adapt equipment or function of the environment)
    • Labelling (or endorsement info to product or at point-of-choice)
    • Presentation (sensory properties & visual design)
    • Sizing (product size or quantity)
    • Availability (behavioural options)
    • Proximity (effort required for options)
    • Priming (incidental cues to alter non-conscious behavioural response)
    • Prompting (non-personalised info to promote or raise awareness)

The first five types change the properties of “objects of stimuli”, the next two the placement of them, and the final two both the properties and placement.

I can see how we could use this as a basis for our thinking on the factors we want to measure pubs and bars on. For example, some basics like the choice of non-alcoholic / low-alcohol drinks would be about Availability, display of non-alcoholic drinks could be Presentation, Proximity and also Priming, drinks promotions would be Prompting and Labelling, and staff training could perhaps be about Prompting too?

I can’t instantly think of anything that we couldn’t fit into the typology (although we might need some flexibility of interpretation!). Interestingly, when the Cambridge researchers reviewed the existing literature, they could only find alcohol related nudges of the ambience, design, labelling, priming and prompting types. And not many studies overall, especially compared to research on diet which was the most popular topic for these types of nudges.

On the other hand, we could probably also find at least one metric for every one of the nine types of nudges, but they might not be the most interesting or important ones for this project. But it could still be a useful exercise to go through.

Nudging Pubs

Nudging Pubs is the final title to a little project that Club Soda completed last year (it was called “the Dalston Burst” at the start). The final report (pdf) from the project is now out, along with a brand new website.

The aim of the project was to answer this question:

How can we encourage pubs and bars to be more welcoming to customers who want to drink less alcohol or none at all?

The report has the findings from our research and experiments, along with recommendations and key messages. And the great news is that Hackney council are funding a second year of this project, for which Club Soda has partnered with Blenheim CDP. We’ll use the Nudging Pubs website for regular updates on the project, but I’ll probably do something occasionally on this blog as well.

Eating behaviour change

With my Club Soda hat on, I attended some panel discussions at a Food Matters Live event last week. My first session was titled “Behaviour change: societal or personal accountability?”. There was a lot of talk about nudges, especially from a government policy point of view (possibly due to the backgrounds of the panel members). An interesting nugget mentioned by Michael Hallsworth from the Behavioural Insights Team was that bad examples spread better in human networks than good examples, since they give people a kind of social permission to misbehave if their friends and neighbours do so as well. At Club Soda we are not quite that pessimistic, believing rather that a social element is very important in changing human behaviours for the better.

The second session, “Health and wellbeing: the trillion dollar marketplace”, had some useful things to say about marketing, and behaviour change too. Adam Ismail from GOED said you should have just one big idea in your marketing, as including too much detail won’t be taken in or trusted. Someone added that you should not give too much detail to consumers, but rather just appeal to authority (“this product has been evaluated by doctors”). And Adam noted that every seafood initiative around the world has led to people eating less fish, which chimes with what we know about alcohol awareness: people in pubs with posters about the dangers of alcohol actually drink more, not less! In a similar way, rewards (e.g. insurance discounts) seem to work better than penalties (such as taxes).

On my way out, I chatted with the people at the Vegan Society stall. Their mission, or at least a part of it, is of course a type of behaviour change intervention as well: how to make people use less animal products? Not an easy one either.

As an aside, there were hardly any empty seats for the first session, whereas in the second one the venue was only about one third full. Is a bit of behavioural nudging really that much more exciting than a trillion dollars?