By Kim Bergeron, HC Link Consultant
On Friday October 21, 2011 24 participants from public health, municipal services, crime prevention, training and non-government organizations from across Central East Ontario came together to learn about the use of behaviour change concepts to move policy forward.
Traditionally, behaviour change concepts such as attitudes, beliefs, subjective norms, have been used to move individuals towards healthier lifestyle choices such as encouraging individuals to eat more fruit and vegetables or quit smoking by understanding their attitudes or beliefs about their food or smoking choices and consumption.
This workshop took a different twist on the use of behaviour change concepts by applying them to understand the behaviours of community decision-makers such as elected officials, executive directors or other community leaders whom participants want to support healthy community policies. Therefore, the focus was for participants to understand community decision-makers motivation, intentions and behaviours in order to develop strategies to change their behaviours so that they support healthy community policies such as access to recreation, access to healthy foods etc.
As the facilitator, I highlighted three traditional health behaviour change theories: transtheortical model, social cognitive theory and theory of planned behaviour and showed how concepts within these theories can be applied to community decision-makers to move policy forward. The focus was on identifying the desirable behaviours of community decision-makers and then understanding how to influence these behaviours to elicit supportive action. For example, when trying to influence elected officials to support a policy change, an elected official must make the motion for the policy and other elected officials must support the motion. Therefore, the types of behaviours of interest are ‘making the motion’ and ‘supporting the motion’.
Through this interactive workshop, policy work was reframed and presented as ‘changing the status quo’ and participants were challenged to apply the information presented by answering questions on worksheets and engaging in group discussions.
Two examples of the types of group discussions are:
1. Moving Forward Healthy Food and Physical Activity Policies in Regional Child Care Centres
The community decision-makers were Regional Child Care Providers (Executive Directors and Staff). The plan was to measure their knowledge and awareness of their role in providing healthy food and physical activity environments within their centres. The idea was to develop a scenario that models child care centres that have healthy food and physical activity policies and develop questions that measure if they felt that as regional child care providers they have a role to create this type of environment within their centres.
2. Moving Forward Healthy Mobile Food Vendor Policy
The issue was the provision of healthy food choices from mobile food vendors. The community decision-maker to be targeted was elected officials who set out the bylaws for mobile food vendors. The concept to be measured was their attitudes to changing by-laws to allow mobile healthy food vendor licenses.
At the end of the workshop, participants shared some ‘ah-ha’ moments that included: human behaviour is complex; time needs to be invested to ‘break it down’ behaviours in order to understand how to influence those making the decisions; and developing relationships is key when doing this type of work not only with community partners, but with those you are trying to influence.
This workshop is now over. Slides of the workshop are available.