A structured path towards behaviour change – How can training sessions help bring a to change people’s behaviour?

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Behaviour change


Gwilym Ellis | Lead Trainer

Date: 4 November 2021

We know how to give a good training course.  We have expert subject matter knowledge and can speak in an engaging way.  It’s enjoyable for the delegates to be involved and they give excellent feedback for an engaging session. 

But what will they do when they go back to work?  At the end of the online session, or when they leave the room, how can we ensure that they will use what they learnt? How do we change people’s behaviour? 

The NHS staff scenario 

Five years ago, Gwilym Ellis, lead trainer at Trilateral Research, designed training for NHS staff to have better conversations with patients who might be suffering with their mental health.  These were frontline workers, typically GP receptionists, who would be the first point of contact for patients many of whom did not realise that their mental health was the issue that had brought them there.  For those patients to be open to discussing this very private matter, that initial conversation was crucial – yet most GP receptionists were hurried, or still recovering from the previous transaction which could have been unpleasant or even aggressive. 

 “I don’t have time to think about the other person when I have two people off sick and the last patient I spoke to shouted at me,” was a typical response in initial interviews with the NHS staff.  The idea of the training was received enthusiastically with a genuine interest in learning about mental health; where the resistance came was to the behaviour change. 

Those sessions were used to work backwards from success.  Starting with the end result – a stressed administrator in a confrontational environment – interventions could be designed that not only fitted with their workplace but made their role immediately easier. 

It meant that when delivering the training, facilitators could empathise with those staff and show them how using these techniques would reduce their workload and, just as importantly, help protect them and provide them with resilience throughout their day.  Understanding their motivation and context meant behaviour change could be achieved. 

Changing behaviour beyond training 

This technique of working backwards from success can be used to change behaviour beyond training.  At Save the Children, bequests form significant revenue.  While there, Gwilym Ellis of Trilateral Research gave monthly legacy sessions which set out the offering to high-net-worth donors.  However, the motivation to donate came from a sense that the donation would make a difference – that there was a pressing problem that needed their help.  This meant that they wanted those donors to leave the room with a sense of urgent need, yet the presentation, in showcasing the charity’s work at home and abroad, was doing the opposite by painting a picture of how effective the many programmes were.   

This was a sell in which donors were being asked to change their wills so that instead of leaving all their money to their children, they left some to the charity, and so maximum motivation was needed.   

Gwilym changed that pitch, away from the work, to focus almost exclusively on the beneficiaries.  Showing these wealthy donors the real poverty that exists in the UK, often within walking distance of their homes, meant that they left those sessions with a feeling of crisis about child poverty in the UK.  That’s how behaviour change achieved a significant increase in reported donations over the subsequent sessions. 

This technique is formalised in the methodology of Theory of Change, (https://www.theoryofchange.org/what-is-theory-of-change/) whereby stakeholders are required to model their desired outcomes before they decide on forms of intervention to achieve those outcomes.  Making the distinction between desired and actual outcomes at that initial design stage guides us to form causal linkages between our short, intermediate and longer-term outcomes.  This is a structured path towards behaviour change. 

We are excited to adding a dedicated training team to Trilateral’s existing expertise.  It means that we can leverage techniques such as behaviour change to maximise impact outside of the classroom.  In line with Trilateral’s approach of combining technical expertise with subject matter expertise this will allow us to go further in delivering behaviour change as part of client programmes. 

 For more information contact our team.

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