Interpretation to change behaviour – some tactics from Futerra

Many of our regular clients, including the RSPB, The Wildfowl and Wetland Trust and The Wildlife Trusts are in the environmental / wildlife conservation sector. Their mission involves changing people’s attitudes and behaviour and they, quite rightly, want interpretation to contribute to that. So it jolly well should. But how?

Picture 32At TellTale we spend a lot of time thinking about communication and  behaviour change and finding out about what works. Last week, the good people in Futerra the sustainability communications agency,  launched some Change-maker cards containing ten top tactics for influencing behaviour. We will be thinking long and hard about what they say.

These cards are not aimed at interpreters. Nonetheless, I strongly suggest that people working as interpreters in environmental organisations take a look at them. Interestingly they are aimed at marketing people and people who develop and communicate brands.

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Thinking about brand should not be a surprise to interpreters. But the communication we deliver should surprise our users and provoke them into conversation.

Futerra introduce the cards with the idea that “People find it hard to change behaviours, brands are very good at it”. That sounds very interesting and important. Worth listening to, learning from and mining for every bit of insight we interpreters can get from it, I would say.

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One way marketeers promote brands is by associating them with higher status. So we need to find clever ways of making the behaviours we are advocating seem similarly desirable (and of course achievable – but that’s another story)

Ten years ago we would probably never have mentioned the words “brand” or “branding” in the TellTale office. Now we think and talk about it a lot. I hope most interpreters do.  If not, they should probably start.  It is good to see that the AHI conference this autumn (a must-do event in the UK interpretation calendar) will look at what interpretation can learn from other related disciplines, including , I believe, branding.

The Change-maker cards highlight ten key tactics and explain  why each is so important, its ‘enemies’ (or how it can misfire), ‘tools’ (what can make it work) a call to action and, most interestingly I thought, a case study.

No surprise there I suppose.  Futerra advocate communicating with joy, fun, interest and laughter. That's something interpreters do exceedingly well!

No surprise there. Futerra advocate communicating with joy, fun, interest and laughter. That’s something interpreters do exceedingly well!

I suspect most of them have some relevance for influencing visitors to wildlife sites to change their behaviour.

The biggest thing that struck me is how far the tone of these cards is from the rather earnest, miserable, doom-laden and didactic approach that was almost ubiquitous on wildlife sites a few years back (and, let’s face it, still has not died out).

There is a positive, uplifting and optimistic quality throughout Futerra’s stuff that models what they advocate.  This is not (overtly at least) about stepping back from the brink of ecological meltdown, mass extinction and creating a steaming hell on Earth. This is about good, happy people embracing a better future. No hairshirt in sight. That’s got to be a more attractive, more ‘sticky’ message.

 Do we time our message delivery right? Do we even ask that question?

Do we time our message delivery right? Do we even ask that question?

I was most interested and intrigued by the ‘Time’ tactic. Marketeers pay considerable attention to timing. This tactic emphasises the importance of ‘transitional times’ (like moving house, starting a family, changing job, retiring) when habits become more fluid and behaviours are easier to shift.

I wonder whether, in a different sense, heritage sites, museums nature reaserves and other places where people go to ‘take time out’ and to reflect may also be ‘transitional’. I have a hunch it may be so. It it is, then maybe we have a particularly good opportunity to offer people a different perspective on what they do and the choices they make.

I am also interested in this because timing is something we have found ourselves talking about more and more of late in our advice and training on visitor experience planning. It’s nice to have some confirmation that it’s worth paying attention to.

I am not sure all the Change-maker tactics are appropriate for site-based communication. I am wondering what the top ten tactics for interpreters who want to shift attitudes would be. What would yours be? Ideas welcome – post them below.

If you like what you see here you can find out more by downloading the Change-maker cards.

All graphics by Futerra. Thanks to them for that and for sharing these insights

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