Practices in engagement and behaviour change are getting together, and it’s not hard to understand why.

When we fully engage, we want to generate action; by a person or a group of people, or organisation. We need people to be influenced it’s worthwhile, and to be motivated to turn up.

When changing behaviours we need to fully engage; to understand people, their motivations, their perceptions, so we can design behavioural interventions that work.

A few months ago, at two overlapping conferences – the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) Australasian conference and Griffith University’s Change conference on social marketing – the connection between the two practices was never more evident.

I attended both. Day one at the IAP2 conference and the Keynote Speaker took to the stage – Associate Professor Liam Smith from BehaviourWorks (Monash University). A Keynote I’d expect at Change conference.

Then over at Change conference, hot topics of discussion were on collective impact models, co-design, place-based engagement and storytelling.

Yet across both conferences the synergies and connections between the practices of engagement and behaviour change weren’t overtly explained. Is it that obvious?

Expectations for engaging with people are changing. Whether it’s for participatory design or part of a more traditional consultation process, engagement is becoming more and more about encouraging people to act. The expectations on engagement practitioners is to reach and involve a more diverse mix of people – but how do you make sure more people want to engage? Where there’s no budget for market research recruitment, this is challenging. It relies on motivating people to get involved – using behavioural insights to understand their barriers to engaging and what will most influence them.

Similarly, those methods which are traditionally seen as part of the engagement practice are becoming more critical in the design and implementation of behaviour change programs and campaigns. These engagement techniques – such as establishing stakeholder reference groups, co-designing and workshopping, storytelling, in-depth interviews, and community forums – are all about understanding and designing tactics that work for the person. And you can’t understand the person, without engaging with them.

Engagement planning, such as stakeholder and influencer mapping, are also needed in behaviour change strategies to better understand who will impact their decisions.

The convergence of engagement and behaviour change practice presents real opportunity for improvement in sustaining behaviour change, particularly in a community-based context.

When the Social Deck managed the ‘Don’t Waste Our Forests’ illegal dumping project in Orange, NSW, at the core of our approach was combining engagement and design thinking with community-based social marketing (based on the Doug McKenzie-Mohr CBSM practice (Mckenzie-Mohr, 2011)). Having these work together allowed for people and organisations with different points of view and motivations to design a strategy for behaviour change together. Read more about Don’t Waste Our Forests and results here.

Into the future, I’d expect more overlap between engagement and behaviour change practice as user-centred and human-centred becomes the norm in any design process.

But it’s great to see we’re already getting together on this.

The Social Deck specialises in engagement and community-based behaviour change. See our work page and case studies for examples of our work.