Archive for the ‘education’ Category

Stimulating behavioural change: thumbs up

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bread by Carlito_Brigante_.Bread‘ by Carlito Brigante, uploaded to flickr

Fascinating and sensible article about facilitating behavioural change via effective communication published yesterday. Too often, the ‘boomerang effect’ means that undesirable behaviours are reinforced  –

[…] the problem with appeals based on social norms is that they often contain a hidden message.

So, for example, an environmental campaign that focuses on the fact that too many people drive cars with large engines contains two messages — that driving cars with large engines is bad for the environment, and that lots of people are driving cars with large engines. This second message makes it unlikely that the campaign will work. Worse, it might even make it counterproductive: by conveying how common the undesirable behaviour is, it can give those who do not currently engage in that behaviour a perverse incentive to do so. Everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t I?

The nub of the matter?  Castigating undesirable behaviour needs to be connected with praise for those who are doing the right thing.

Fortunately, there is a way of harnessing the power of social norms, so that the dreaded “boomerang effect” doesn’t occur.

In a recent experiment, psychologists examined the influence of social norms on the household energy consumption of residents of California. The researchers, led by Wesley Schultz, picked houses at random and then divided them into groups depending on whether their energy consumption was higher or lower than the average for that area. Some low-energy-use households received only information about average energy usage — thereby setting the social norm.

A second group of low-energy households had a positive “emoticon” (happy face) positioned next to their personal energy figure, conveying approval of their energy footprint. A third group of over-consuming households were shown their energy usage coupled with a negative emoticon (sad face), intended to convey disapproval of their higher-than-average footprint.

The researchers then measured energy consumption in the following months. As one might expect, the over-consuming households used the social norm as a motivation to reduce their energy use, but under-consuming households that had received only the social norm information increased their energy use.

Crucially, though, the under-consuming households that had received positive feedback did not show this boomerang effect: the addition of a smiley face next to their energy usage made all the difference. Despite the simplicity of the feedback, households that felt their under-consumption was socially approved (rather than a reason to relax), maintained their small energy footprint. This suggests that using social norms can be effective — but only if they are used in the right way.

Castigating the “majority” of people for driving cars with large engines, without simultaneously praising those who have chosen smaller models could spectacularly backfire. Environmental campaigns using social norms will have to be supplemented with information targeted at specific groups about the desirability of their particular behaviours. If people are doing something positive, they need to know about it.

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Consuming for the economy or the future?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Alastair McIntosh was contributing BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day yesterday.  Here’s an excerpt –

Our conundrum is that we need more consumption to save the economy, but less to save the planet.

Spending our way out of a recession is therefore only a stop-gap measure. It’s methadone for our planetary heroin addiction.

We simply feed the habit if we think that today’s problems can be tackled at conventional political, technical or economic levels. If we’re redefining our “central mission”, we must press further.

Technical fixes are certainly part of the solution. But I’d put it to you that the deep work must be this: to learn to live more abundantly with less, to rekindle community, and to serve fundamental human need instead of worshiping at the altars of greed.

The crisis of these times is therefore spiritual. It calls for reconnecting our inner lives with the outer world – an expansion of consciousness. And that’s an opportunity that we neglect at our peril, for as I once heard an old Quaker woman say, “It is perilous, to neglect one’s spiritual life.

Exquisite? ‘Wake Up, Freak Out, Then Get a Grip’

Thursday, October 2, 2008

I watched this thanks to Ray Ison, and was mightily impressed with the quality of the animation and the sound effects.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I found myself wanting more!  I’d love to see the team that created this apply their talents to lots more stuff.  It strikes me this medium can work incredibly well as a storytelling and educational vehicle. Very nice song at the end.

Now for my critique.  On the whole, the narrative was cogent, but the intense relaying of scientific information seemed to cater more for a science-literate audience.  I felt the scripting and narration left quite a lot to be desired.  The narrator skipped quickly between concepts, leaving non-scientists like myself befuddled and breathless, and needing to rewind the animation to work out what was being discussed and to catch up.  It seriously denigrated my experience of what could be a stunning project.  I dearly wanted a simpler script and much, much clearer transitions between each science-spiel segment.  And less jargon. (Interestingly, the animation’s creator conceived the animation as an old-fashioned piece of unilateral communication.)

I’m curious what you think and how you feel about it.  Comments and insights welcome.

God-bothering of the sort we need: faith for the future

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

From an article by Nick Reeves in today’s Guardian

At a global environment conference in London last year, my professional institution, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, brought together representatives of all the major faiths. There was one matter on which they all agreed: the need to collaborate for action on the environment, and especially on climate change. The leadership of Archbishop Bartholomew was seen as a beacon.

But faith groups have been silent for too long on this crisis, and should do far more to remind us of our moral duty to restore and protect the fragile ecological balance of the planet. As the archbishop said: “We are all culpable. Each one of us has a smaller or greater contribution to the deliberate degradation of nature.”

Butt, in reporting the environmentalism of some religious leaders, suggests that an ecological coalition of faiths is possible: “There is hardly a religious leader in the world now who is not preoccupied by the problems of pollution and climate change.” And it’s true. In the last year or so we have seen faith leaders including the Dalai Lama, the Bishop of Liverpool and Pope Benedict step down from the pulpit and speak directly on environmental issues. This is good news and “God-bothering” of the sort we need for the 21st century.

OFCOM, Channel 4 and that film – causing more harm than good

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Below is a letter from someone (Mark Dowd) who used to work in television – for Channel 4, in fact.  Mr Dowd wrote his letter to the Guardian in the light of the UK Commmunications Industry regulator’s (OFCOM) ruling about the film, the Great Global Warming Swindle, shown on Channel 4 in 2007. He was none too happy with the film –

So serious is the climate threat that I gave up TV after that film last year to work with Operation Noah, a faith-based campaign that calls for leadership from religious and political figures on global warming. I have done more than 30 public meetings so far this year and am in no doubt that the Durkin programme has given many people a fig leaf for carrying on with business as usual.

Ofcom’s report showed that Wag TV treated David King, Professor Carl Wunsch and the IPCC unfairly. Yet mysteriously it also found that “there is no evidence that the programme in itself did, or would cause appreciable potential harm to members of the public”. Just when are we going to stop this denial? As a species, we put 26bn metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year: three times the amount of 50 years ago. The correlation between CO2 and global heating was established in 1896 by the Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius. But then they said there was no correlation between tobacco and lung cancer, didn’t they?
Mark Dowd
Operation Noah

Operation Noah’s website is here.

A word from the wise – JK Rowling’s Address to Harvard Graduates 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

An excerpt on how imagination facilitates empathy –

One of the greatest formative experiences of my life preceded Harry Potter, though it informed much of what I subsequently wrote in those books. This revelation came in the form of one of my earliest day jobs. Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid the rent in my early 20s by working in the research department at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London. There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.

Many of my co-workers were ex-political prisoners, people who had been displaced from their homes, or fled into exile, because they had the temerity to think independently of their government. Visitors to our office included those who had come to give information, or to try and find out what had happened to those they had been forced to leave behind. I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job of escorting him to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite courtesy, and wished me future happiness.

And as long as I live I shall remember walking along an empty corridor and suddenly hearing, from behind a closed door, a scream of pain and horror such as I have never heard since. The door opened, and the researcher poked out her head and told me to run and make a hot drink for the young man sitting with her. She had just given him the news that in retaliation for his own outspokenness against his country’s regime, his mother had been seized and executed.

Every day of my working week in my early 20s I was reminded how incredibly fortunate I was, to live in a country with a democratically elected government, where legal representation and a public trial were the rights of everyone.

Every day, I saw more evidence about the evils humankind will inflict on their fellow humans, to gain or maintain power. I began to have nightmares, literal nightmares about some of the things I saw, heard and read. And yet I also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty International than I had ever known before. Amnesty mobilises thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.

Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s minds, imagine themselves into other people’s places. Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise. And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces can lead to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid. What is more, those who choose not to empathise may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.

One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality. That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing.

The great birthing – the significance of the US presidential election

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Like me, you may have become fascinated – obsessed, even – with the presidential election in the United States.

Some might think that the levels of money being raised are obscene. To that perspective, I’d counter that people’s participation rather than corrupt secret deals is the cause. Others may think that no politician can be honourable. To this perspective, I’d counter that we’re all human but that some are better than others.

I believe this election is the most important the world will know for a very long time. The stakes are the highest they have been.

Can the growing sectarian conflict in the world, that’s embroiled with American foreign policy, be reversed? Can the rhetoric of intolerance, and the belief that might is right, be overcome? Can the political will be generated to address global warming, and other seemingly intractable issues like the rising food prices globally? America can shine a light and do something positive to address each of these questions.

In sum, this election may be the last time that any one nation state has the chance to prevent the erosion of human civilisation as we know it. It’s about sustainability in its deepest sense.

Now I don’t believe any one individual alone can solve these issues. However, the president of the United States, as of 2008, sure sets the tone and leads by example in how to go about addressing them.

If it’s about anything in particular, I’d suggest the election is about the ability to manage amidst complexity.

McCain, unfortunately for him and the Republican Party, has the wrong policies. Clinton has the wrong decision-making approach.

To my mind, the tortuous Democratic nomination campaign reflects the labour pains of a new kind of politics, one that Senator Barack Obama seems the better able to appreciate. Obama has, broadly speaking, both the right policies and the right decision-making approach. (For those who missed it the first time, read Andrew Sullivan’s article, The New Face of America, published in the Times.) That is, of course, from my point of view, but I believe he gives people confidence that he is able to handle, grapple with, and forge pathways through complexity.

Like many others of his supporters, I was disappointed that Clinton won the Pensylvania primary, but I wasn’t surprised. Not only was it predicted and she heavily favoured. If you think about it, anything big that tries to be born has long and drawn-out labour pains.

An important part of the new politics is the grass-roots organising going on, facilitated by the internet. The fundraising has been staggering. The ability to reflect and share ideas and perspectives on the campaign, online, is also formidable. Candidate’s supporters in a very real sense are guiding where the campaign goes. The feedback from a candidate’s speech to a supporter’s online donation can be immediate.

Innovatively, an American NGO, MoveOn.org, which has endorsed Obama, is currently hosting an online competition for the best ‘Obama in 30 Seconds‘ advert. I’ve watched a few now, engrossed in how keen people have been to express themselves in aid of a political campaign.

Something I have found heartening has been how people have been effected when they have met Obama in person, heard him speak at rallies, and have had a chance to size him up; like here.

Here are four of my overall favourites

And my vote would be for ‘My Name Is Barack Obama – Afraid’

The rising passion of Al Gore – ‘moving together and quickly’

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The video is worth watching just for the remarkable difference between his wooden presidential campaign of 2000 and his demonstrative passion here. There are other nuggets – like the number of questions asked of the presidential candidates regarding climate change, and this wonderful African proverb –

If you want to go quickly, go alone; if you want to go far, go together

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I was particularly struck by the thought that one week’s worth of the Iraq war could be much better spent. There may come a point for US citizens and their allies where there is a decision to be made as to the greater threat and the greater good, Iraq or the whole world.

Tarzan Exposed

Monday, March 31, 2008

More great posters made by the World Wildlife Fund can be found here. Via Treehugger.