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How to create change one behavior at a time.

Behavior Change: It’s NOT Just the Person!

The League of American Bicyclists’ National Bike Month is coming to a close, and it’s a good bet that at least a few new acolytes have joined the active transport movement thanks to you-can-do-it messaging and fun group rides.

National Bike Month is a great of example of how helping people develop a habit of biking — or any other new beneficial routine — requires more than simply “educating” them about the importance of the behavior and what the benefits are.

Focusing solely on the individual ignores the powerful forces that are outside a person’s knowledge, motivation, and skills. This same thinking happens to product marketers who become so enamored with their product that they figure all they need to do to generate the purchase behavior is tell the individual customer how great the product is.

That’s why we want you to think bigger.

To help, we’ve graphically combined several frameworks like the Social Ecological Model and Force Field Analysis that get at the complex interplay between the person and the many influences in his or her environment.

Diagram of environmental influences.

Take choosing to bike to work. Powerful environmental influencers that can either promote or discourage new habits include:


  1. PEOPLE — friends, family, and coworkers;
  2. ORGANIZATIONAL and community resources;
  3. CULTURE and norms;
  4. POLICIES, taxes and regulations;
  5. PLACES — the physical environment e.g. roads with bicycle lanes or shaded areas.

The best programs work on most or all these environmental influencers, not just individual-level knowledge and behavior. Through themed campaigns such as last Friday’s Bike to Work Day, The League of American Bicyclists addresses multiple environmental influencers. Bike to Work Day united friends, families and coworkers on their otherwise solo commutes (people); San Francisco developed “energizer stations,” where participants could stop on their morning and evening commute for food, blinking lights and reflective bands (organizational); Dallas hosted a Car vs. Bus vs. Bike Race — where the bike repeatedly won —  to prove just how efficient cycling actually is (culture); participants could schedule a Ride with the Mayor to showcase the city’s growing need for biking amenities, such as bike racks, public transit integration and widened bike lanes (policies); and the League recommended posting company-wide maps or links to point employees in the direction of bike-friendly routes in their area (places).

So whether or not you got the chance to throw on a helmet and participate in this month’s festivities, taking environment into consideration is just one way to add a spoke to your wheel of behavior change abilities.

Dr. Moshe Engelberg is the founder of ResearchWorks, a marketing, strategy, and research agency focused on organizations in the business of health. A version of this article first appeared on the Your Marketing Minute e-newsletter. Erin West is a Coordinator at Marketing for Change.

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