Community-Based Social Marketing workshop

Today I attended an all day workshop on Community-Based Social Marketing by Dr. Doug McKenzie-Mohr. While it may have originally been intended as a workshop, I think the number of participants was doubled to over 100 people, so it ended up being mostly a long lecture with a lot of question-taking.

I was already somewhat familiar with the CBSM from reading a condensed version of the method on the web. CBSM is an attempt to modularize and standardize a process for “fostering sustainable behavior” across a range of domains. It’s based on a wide variety of social psychology research on how to get people to actually change their behavior. One major takeaway is that big mass-media campaigns to promote behavior change are not very effective for the money spent on them.

CBSM process has 5 steps

  • Selecting the behavior(s) that you wish people to adopt
  • Assess the barriers and benefits people face adopting the behaviors
  • Develop strategies to foster the behavior changes
  • Run a pilot project that tests your action plan
  • Implement your plan broadly and evaluate its effectiveness

The development section suggests the use of a variety of psychological “tools” that can help people change their behavior such as making public commitments, social diffusion, social norms, and prompts. The design of the Kukui Cup competition and the supporting website is already strongly influenced by these tools.

The target audience for the workshop and CBSM in general are government and NGOs that have a mission to foster some type of behavior change, which is somewhat different from our situation with the Kukui Cup. The Kukui Cup can be thought of as a sort of applied research into using these CBSM techniques but with a very narrow market segment (first-year college students) and making extensive use of a customized website. Rather than focus on encouraging a small number of behaviors in participants to achieve our goals of increased energy conservation and energy literacy, we are giving participants a smorgasbord of options via the website and trying to figure out which ones work the best based on what the participants do.

I was struck by how little the Internet and WWW were mentioned in the workshop. CBSM is clearly labor intensive compared to a traditional mass media campaign, but the claim is that CBSM delivers better results (i.e. more desired behavior) than informational campaigns. From a CBSM perspective, the Kukui Cup seeks to determine how much of that traditional CBSM labor can be embodied in the website, and whether the web-based CBSM retains the effectiveness of traditional CBSM. Does a web community provide the same benefits as real-world community? At least with the Kukui Cup the web community will mirror a series of small real world communities: floors of a dorm.

That said, there are some cautions from the workshop that are worrisome. There was a lot of emphasis on surveying the people the campaign is targeting, and running a pilot study. This makes a lot of sense, and from a certain perspective, the first Kukui Cup could be thought of as a pilot, though it will be a bigger pilot than most due to the infrastructure required to make it a competition. Obviously the risk is that the whole Kukui Cup could flop (nobody uses the website, general apathy towards the competition, no energy conservation, etc), which would pose significant problems for my graduation timeline. 🙂 Doug related a story of his own biggest failed campaign, which turned out to be his own dissertation project!! At great expense he created a media campaign across Canada that cost $100K to encourage people to participate in policy meetings in their communities. The ads included a 1-800 number, and his organization braced for tens of thousands of calls. Number of calls received: 8.

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