The Eleventh [Business] Day of Christmas: Workshop: The Psychology of Sustainable Behavior

On the eleventh [business] day of Christmas, the Iowa Water Center gave to me…more information on the optional workshop to occur after the close of the Iowa Water Conference beginning at 3 p.m. on Thursday, March 24. The workshop will cost an additional fee of $50, payable during online registration (opening in early January) or on-site at the conference.

The Psychology of Sustainable Behavior – A skill-building workshop to support voluntary behavior change
Christie Manning, Macalester College

This workshop will describe in greater detail the tools introduced in the plenary talk: Engaging people to preserve water resources – Insights from Psychology. Psychological research offers many clues to why people behave in certain ways or make particular choices. The workshop will offer several exercises designed to help you:

(1)  Understand the audience you are trying to reach. Who is responsible for water pollution and/or resource protection? How does your audience think of themselves? What values do people in your community hold, and does water protection align with those values? Who is a credible messenger to represent water resource protection to this group, and what are the effective frames for communicating the message?

(2)  Change the social norms. Are the behaviors that lead to water resource issues unremarkable or accepted as normal? Are people uncomfortable speaking up about water issues because they don’t want to draw negative attention to themselves? Social norms like this keep people locked into bad habits. We’ll talk about how to change the social perception of water use; to create and communicate a new “normal” and help shift people’s behavior.

(3)  Make hidden information visible. Human beings, like other biological organisms, respond to information that strikes the senses. Yet many water issues are undetectable – pollutants are invisible and odorless, runoff tends to occur far from where people live, and “a million gallons” of reported water waste is abstract and intangible. We’ll discuss strategies for making invisible information concrete, visible, and sensory-based.

(4)  Build people’s competence. People have a basic psychological need to feel competent. When faced with a task that they don’t know how to do, or fear they may do badly, motivation drops. Solving water resource issues will involve learning new ways to do everyday actions – and this may threaten people’s competence and lead to resistance. In the workshop, we’ll cover methods to boost competence and motivation and support more sustainable community-wide water habits.

The workshop facilitator, Dr. Christie Manning, has spent the last 15 years applying psychological research to issues of natural resource use and sustainability.