One of the highlights of last week’s SOLACE conference for me was listening to Matthew Taylor from the RSA. Apart from the fact that he is one of those people that you could listen to for hours because of his conversational style and quick wit, he had a really refreshing perspective on the role of local authorities.
The bit that really got me thinking was his take on how government – both central and local – should be helping people to solve their own problems individually and collectively. Matthew looked at where the power to change actually lies, and boiled it down to three key sources:
- Hierarchical authority
- Shared norms
- Individual aspiration
If we take an example, say eating more fruit and veg, Matthew argues that people are more likely to eat more fruit and veg if all of these features are in place. So I am more likely to snack on a banana than a Mars bar if I remember the government advice to eat 5 portions of fruit and veg a day, see my colleagues doing the same, and if I also want to get healthy. If only one of these is true, I’m less likely to give up my 5 packet of crisps a day habit.
In some ways this is nothing new, it’s just another way of thinking about now well-established behaviour change principles, but I really like this analysis that seems much clearer and easier to apply than a Mindspace mnemonic and ever since have been thinking about how you can apply it to so many public sector challenges.
For example, a friend of mine is working in Mexico and we were discussing what the government there could ever really do to reduce drug-related crime. We realised that a top-down hierarchical approach alone is never going to change a problem of that scale unless it is coupled with a change to shared norms and a way of getting people to aspire to a different way of life.
How many other local government challenges could we apply this three-pronged approach to? Troubled families, youth offending, increasing volunteering?