Behaviour change in the illegal wildlife trade.

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By Dr Fiona Spotswood.


Recently I was invited to speak and take part in a policy workshop at Cambridge University on the Illegal Wildlife Trade. The event was coordinated by Cambridge University’s Science and Policy Research Centre, TRAFFIC and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The idea was to explore ideas in the run up to the main conference on the IWT, this autumn in London. This was the first time I had been involved in this topic, and it was a fascinating few days.

My contribution was as the expert in behaviour change. I presented some ideas around different theoretical assumptions underpinning behaviour change interventions and policies. I have presented this same talk in many different contexts, but normally it relates to physical activity or sustainability. The context of pangolins and rosewood was a first for me. However, the same theoretical contexts were highly prevalent. Can we think about the consumption of pangolin scales or rhino horn as a deliberated, conscious consumer decision, or is that decision embedded in established routines? These questions are at the heart of all my research into the way people enact everyday behaviours and answers many of our questions about why people get ‘stuck’ into different habits. Often, the people want to budge those habits, but sometimes they don’t.

The consumer context of the illegal wildlife trade is complex. For some consumption activities, the illegality of the purchase is part of the appeal. For others, there is confusion and mystery about the law. Rosewood is a good example. We know little about the consumer demand for illegal rosewood. It may be that rosewood furniture is part of a set of traditions that have nothing to do with its protected status. Understanding the practices in which rosewood furniture consumption is a significant moment would be a first step in identifying how to shape these practices and kerb consumption to within sustainable limits.

Practice theory offers insights into how behaviours happen and how they can be tackled. Often, the answer does not lie with persuasive approaches, although these can be an important ongoing focus. However, persuasion alone is unlikely to shift ingrained cultural routines and collective conventions. A good example of an intervention for the IWT which could easily have been designed using practice theory (although I should note was not) relates to the tradition use of shark fin in large, formal Chinese banquets. Shark fin has connotations of wealth, status and grandeur, so attempting to persuade banquet consumers, such as the ‘mother of the bride’ to forgo the tradition is unlikely to work. However, working with conference, wedding and party organisers has seen a shift in the way the banquets are planned and ‘framed’ to consumers. Alternatives have been offered and shark fin has gradually been consumed less and less on these occasions. Gradually, the collective conventions surrounding shark fin consumption have shifted so that its consumption is seen as outmoded.

Behaviour change is a complex area, but practice theories show time and again how embedded our ‘decisions’ are into our culturally significant routines, and how little we ‘decide’ about consumption activities which are just part of how our worlds work.

Dr Fiona Spotswood



Serving yourself: value self-creation in health care service

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By Dr Fiona Spotswood

Yesterday, March 1st, the Bristol Leadership and Change Centre at UWE held the first seminar of 2017. Our external speaker was Singaporean Nadia Zainuddin, who is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales and is a member of the university’s Centre for Research in Socially Responsible Marketing. With a PhD in social marketing and a background as one of the leading thinkers in responsible and social change marketing in the region, her research interests lie predominantly in the area of health services, with a specialised focus on customer value creation.

The presentation Nadia shared was based on a paper she published in Services Marketing last year; “Serving yourself: value self-creation in health care service”. Her quantitative study rigorously explored the nature of self-service health screening, with a focus on bowel-screening; a home-kit type of screening with a high emphasis on customer input. Her findings, based on structural equation modelling, demonstrate that consumers can self-create value, leading to desired outcomes of satisfaction with the consumption experience and behavioural intentions to engage with the self-service again in the future.

Nadia explained the significance of her work for social marketing; that a key role of the discipline is to create conditions in which desirable behaviours are voluntarily undertaken. This prompted an interested debate in the seminar about the different roles of social marketing in the behaviour change context; as a mechanism for persuading and motivating, and as a mechanism for creating and shaping practices. These approaches are both important parts of the behaviour change and social change picture.

Further discussion from an enthusiastic audience centred on the applicability of the self-value model to complex practices like ‘commuting’, where the layers of value that could relate to audience participation are also entangled with infrastructures, institutions, skills and spatial and temporal sequencing as well as attitudes and beliefs. This leads me to wonder about the theoretical implications of the positioning of value – as something within a particular practice, or something held by the actors themselves.

The Bristol Leadership and Change Centre thanks Nadia for her presentation and wishes her best of luck in the next few months as she conducts further research in this are while on sabbatical in Glasgow. If you are interested in taking part in the BLCC seminar series – as a speaker or delegate – please get in touch at


Tools for Change

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By Dr Fiona Spotswood

I’m never happier than wallowing in practice theory. I love grappling with the intricacies of the original thinkers in my field – Bourdieu, Schatzki, Giddens – and wading through their dense language, pondering the implications for my data of their carefully articulated thoughts. At present I’m working with data from depth interviews with Strava app users; amateur athletes who track and monitor their running and cycling data. I’m embedded in Foucauldian analyses of surveillance society, M-health studies and the affective detail of practice theoretical accounts.

But I’m also really interested in the implications of theoretically-driven academic research on behaviour change practice. I would not be satisfied if my leather arm-chair ponderings (see pic above!) about – and using – practice theory did not form part of a growing evidence base that has the power or potential to support a shift in the thinking of policymakers and practitioners of behaviour change. However, there is a significant problem with the impact that journal articles have on practice. Generally they don’t. Rather, translational work is required. This can be in the form of conference presentations, blogs and magazine publications, but a further very effective translational method is the ‘toolkit’.

Recently, I have been working with research and analysis consultant Andrew Darnton. He has been advising government departments and public bodies on behaviour change theory and practice for two decades. He is best described as a ‘knowledge broker’, attempting to translate complex academic theory and empirical studies into usable formats for policy and practice. He is the author of two particular ‘tools’ which I am using more and more. The first is ‘ISM’ (individual – social -material), which is a neat mechanism for practitioners and policy makers – who require no theoretical knowledge – to conceptualise and plan behaviour change interventions in a theoretically-underpinned way. The model forces the thinking-through of a behaviour change problem to take a practice-driven approach. It de-centres the individual, considers the materiality, temporality and sequencing, as well as socio-context that frames the performance of practice. It is fun to do, easily achievable and has produced a suite of demonstrable results across many areas, like the reduction of outdoor defecation in Brazil, reduced meat consumption or reduced teen drinking in Scotland.


The second model I’ve been working with, again one of Andrew’s, is ReValuation. As a practice theorist, I am so often asked how the theory has been or can be applied, and how to evaluate the impact of a practice-theoretical intervention. In truth, the evidence of practice-driven intervention design is thin on the ground, although a team at UWE and a team at Tatu University in Estonia are developing school culture-change programs to consider the implications of a practice-theoretical approach. One of the central problems of any practice-based approach to social change is evaluation. A linear model of behaviour change is inherently appealing to policy and practice because linearity can more easily be measured. An example is the BMI change in users of a self-monitoring health app. Rather, making subtle shifts across a complex system, like a primary school, might have deep-rooted effects that aren’t visible, or only manifest in the future, or have wholly unintended consequences.

ReValuation does not require its users to understand systems theory, practice theory, complexity theory or have any grasp on evaluation methodology or mechanisms for reporting and measurement. It simply allows for a range of indicators to be collaboratively identified which capture the full value of any intervention, and that can include ‘soft’ outcomes which are captured through story telling and anecdote. It also allows for hard stats to be ‘calculated’, and the potential future value of work to be captured. It speaks to the needs of multiple audiences.


I have been teaching these tools on the Behaviour Change module of UWE’s MSc Sustainable Development, and using them in some recent engagement work. It has been fun, and challenging, stepping away from the theory and allowing the tools to do the work. The enthusiasm with which public audiences have received these models has further emphasised the need for academic researchers to move beyond the peer reviewed journal article. With the Impact agenda this is already embedded in our academic worklife, but it has been nonetheless valuable for me to be reminded of the usefulness of translational tools, which make theory work for the right people in a pragmatic way.