Individual behaviour and system change: how are they connected?

A set of resources on the links between individual behaviour change and systems change

Posted on 2 September 2020
Individual behaviour and system change – why it’s not one or the other, by Jill Kubit

The article below by Jill Kubit of Rapid Transition Alliance member DearTomorrow brings together insights from a project supported by the KR Foundation which explored the tensions and connections between individual behaviour change and systems change, sometimes depicted as separate and conflicting approaches.

It set out to establish the scope of this challenge and to create resources for the community of organisations worked with by the KR Foundation, in order to help link these two critical components of change.  Jill’s article links to these resources which include a summary of insights from the project which frame the issues, a reading list, and recommendations.

In general there was found to be only a quite shallow understanding of sustainable behaviours amongst the general public but also among some in the climate community. In particular the project assessed certain gaps in knowledge by looking at a number of themes. These included:

  • How does individual action influence other individual actions within the same person?
  • How do individuals influence others?
  • What is the connection between sustainable behaviours and public actions? And…
  • What is the connection between policy decisions and public engagement?

This work was carried out before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world. Since then our capacity to rapidly and radically change behaviours has been widely reported, not least by the Rapid Transition Alliance on-going work on ‘lessons from lockdown’. Experts on behaviour change point out that a number of factors now make the issue of behaviour change even more urgent and relevant. As societies emerge from the pandemic, what we do, observe and change now will be remembered better in future than normal. The disruption of behaviours also creates a positive ‘fresh start effect’, increasing possibilities, and the very scale and impact of Covid-19 may diminish barriers to change on climate that exist in more normal times. Crucially it is possible that organisations and institutions that are seen to have done good things, may hold increased trust.

Climate emergency protesters outside Parliament in London, UK

Linking individual behaviour and systems change