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VIDEO: Incentives are ‘more powerful than you think’

VIDEO: Incentives are ‘more powerful than you think’

When you’re planning behaviour change programmes and you’re thinking about incentives, it’s really important to recognise that there’s a lot of different kinds of incentives and some can be very powerful, but sometimes they don’t work the way you think they’re going to work.

There’s a great story in a research paper that talks about a headmaster of a school. This headmaster had a big problem because there were a lot of parents in the community, and if they were late to school with their children, they would come up the big circular drive and drop them off after the start of the school, right in front of the school.

This drove this headmaster crazy because it just got in the way of buses and it wasn’t safe. So he came up with a clever idea: he was going to send a letter out to the parents, which he did, and that letter basically said: ‘Dear parent, if you come in after school hours with your child and you drive on that circular driveway and drop them off at the front of the school, I’m going to charge you five pounds every time’. He thought that would immediately cut out the problem. The reality is the problem got worse: more parents did it than ever before.

Why? Because, before, they felt shameful or they felt guilty about it. Now, he had priced it. So they felt, ‘Wow – five pounds and I don’t have to feel guilty? Great, I’ll pay the five pounds’.

Incentives don’t always work the way you think they’re going to. For example, a lot of behaviour change programmes use competitive leader-boards; BetterPoints has competitive leader-boards but we don’t always use them, and the reason is it depends upon who we’re working with as users: some users don’t want to see their name in competition with other people, other users do.

So the point is, incentives are not just points and prize draws – they are are all kinds of things: who do people want to be with, how does it impact their image. It’s more powerful than you think.

Find out how BetterPoints mixes incentives with technology to motivate behaviour change.