Behaviour change

Behaviour change theory

Behaviour change theory can be applied to help tackle many of the issues facing the housing sector today, from climate change through to managing debt and helping residents make healthier life choices.

By applying behavioural science principles to what appears, on the surface, to be irrational human behaviour, this toolkit ensures that residents are much more likely to overcome barriers to change and embrace the adoption of energy efficiency improvements to their homes.

This work makes use of the COM-B behavioural framework which provides a comprehensive approach to understanding human behaviour, creating interventions that drive positive change and help people make better choices.

The model is based on three factors that influence people’s behaviour: capability, opportunity, and motivation.

Capability: Capability refers to an individual’s psychological and physical capacity to engage in a particular behaviour. It includes their knowledge, skills, and cognitive abilities. This can often be the easiest behaviour to shift. For example, in some cases, giving people the knowledge of how to operate a heat pump is enough to change their behaviour.

Opportunity: Opportunity looks at all the external factors that help or prevent someone taking the right choice. These factors can be physical, social, or environmental. For example, if an electricity monitor isn’t placed somewhere where it can be easily seen, residents are much less likely to use it.

Motivation: Motivation relates to the conscious and unconscious processes behind human behaviours. These can be split up into reflective and automatic decision making. Automatic decision making includes things like emotional reactions, habits, and impulses, when the brain acts automatically, for example when brushing your teeth.  Reflective decision making is all about slower, more conscious decision making involving an individual’s beliefs and attitudes. For example, if someone decides where to go on holiday, this can take time and research and is a slower thought process.


This analysis uncovered a number of behavioural factors that can help drive energy efficiency works.

Ease proved to be a strong motivator, and one that is often overlooked. As humans we often take the “easy” choice, so making things as easy as possible is a strong motivator. When installing new windows, door, loft insulation or heat pumps it’s important to make the process as easy as possible. Doing simple things like offering residents a choice of colour for new doors for example, can help make a huge difference.   Rewards, incentives and a walk through of what will happen during building works – can also be hugely beneficial.

The messenger effect is also important. If residents receive messages from someone they “know, like and trust” such as a neighbour or a trusted neighbourhood officer, they are much more likely to engage with or trust the information that is being delivered.  And if that message is delivered face-to-face, that’s even better.

Finally, if residents see other residents around them buying into energy efficiency measures, like a new heat pump for example, they are much more likely to adopt it because they see people they “know, like and trust” adopting new technology. Case studies that are relatable are always important for projects like this.


The initial insight work – focus groups, surveys and workshops – from this project were examined using the COM-B model to ensure that barriers to change were identified, i.e. why people might be resistant to having works undertaken in their home, through to not understanding the benefits of heat pumps.

This work looked at:

  • What the very specific behaviours that need shifting are.
  • Why people behave in a certain way. What prevents them from taking the right choice or a better choice. What are the barriers to change?
  • Where are people when they carry out a behaviour, what is going on in their environment around them?
  • Who are the target audience(s), and who are the people around you that can help you carry out the behaviour that is being shifted?
  • When are people conducting the behaviour. What time of the day is it? Is it an automatic behaviour or a slower, more reflective one?

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