Giving community activists the knowledge and support to "nudge" their neighbours could be a better way of encouraging behaviour change across neighbourhoods, according to a report published by the RSA.
The Ecology of Innovation argues that local "nudges" devised by community organisations could be more successful than national attempts to encourage people to become more environmentally friendly or more health conscious.
National campaigns can leave people feeling preached at, and can alienate people by taking covert approaches, such as profiling people by their waste. Instead, training community organisations with the knowledge they need to nudge their neighbours harnesses their local knowledge, their one-of-us status, and their existing trusted relationships with their community.
This assertion was recently tested in a two-day workshop held by the RSA as part of its Citizen Power programme in Peterborough. Twenty-five residents pitched their ideas to a panel of judges, and two ideas were awarded seed-funding and non-financial support to allow them to become pilot projects.
One pilot will encourage a wider segment of the community to manage local plots of unused land. The community plan to map unused land in their neighbourhood and throughout Peterborough to encourage local people to take an active role in stewarding the land.
The other pilot will encourage residents living near an area of ancient woodland to take an active forest management role. Currently neglected and the scene of anti-social behaviour, the community decided to create a woodland walk to make walking through the forest a normal activity for local residents.
Commenting on the report, Jamie Young said:
"The principles outlined in the report help us encourage local people to nudge their neighbours. Policy makers have been enthusiastic about nudging people into behaving in different ways, but there is a risk that these top-down nudges could look manipulative. This approach is one way that could encourage more effective, transparent and empowering behaviour change interventions."
The Ecology of Innovation report presents simple principles that could be used to encourage local people to pilot projects intended to encourage pro-environmental behaviour. These principles include ensuring that local community organisations are able to participate in contributing their ideas, and supporting their ideas with financial and non-financial support so that they can be tested.
The report outlines how these principles could be implemented to lead to local nudges.