This summary is presented by the IPR Behavioral Insights Research Center

Key Findings

  • Behavioural science research provides many techniques for motivating behaviours like compliance with public administration requests.
  • INSPIRE is a framework specifically designed for written communication that highlights seven key strategies: implementation intentions, norms, salience, procedural justice, incentives, reputation, and ease.

Implications for Public Relations

Public relations professionals should look to incorporate behavioural techniques into communications to improve their efficacy. Techniques including messaging about social norms or calls to set clear intentions can help bridge the gap between attitudes and behaviour where more conventional methods struggle to.

Research has begun to uncover the mechanisms behind behaviour and decision-making. These behavioural insights provide communicators with tools to make their work more successful. Many strategies like making information clear and concise, leveraging source reputation and credibility, or communicating social norms are not new for public relations, but with a richer understanding of the cognitive processes behind them will enable practitioners to use them more effectively.

Behavioural insights also provide a new perspective to influencing behaviour. Whereas conventional communication strategies focus on changing the attitudes that drive behaviour, behavioural sciences acknowledges that unconscious cognitive biases can lead to a discrepancy between how people think and how they actually act. Therefore, strategies are needed to reduce these biases or leverage them to influence behaviour directly.

Several frameworks for these behavioural techniques have already been developed for different applications and contexts, like the INSPIRE framework for written communication. Behavioural scientists could help organizations apply such frameworks to develop, test, implement, and evaluate behavioural techniques within public relations.

It is important to remember that these techniques can very different impacts when used for different audiences and situations. Some techniques may not always by appropriate or well-suited, and can even backfire. Careful testing is needed to ensure that the intended behaviour is promoted and that the intervention is cost-effective.

Summary

Behavioural science research seeks to expand our understanding of human behaviour and decision-making. Insights from this research help inform strategies for encouraging particular choices without violating people’s autonomy, many of which have been implemented by governments around the world. These strategies are rooted in the cognitive principles that underlie the decision-making process and have been described through several different approaches or frameworks to help practitioners apply them. The INSPIRE framework from Australia was specifically designed to incorporate behavioural insights into written communication and has been implemented by several Australian government bodies already.

Faulkner and colleagues developed this framework with a particular focus on public administration, where written communication is a primary method for both informing the public and requesting information or action. Non-compliance can be very costly for all stakeholders. The INSPIRE framework is a mnemonic device which includes seven key techniques for leveraging cognitive processes to increase compliance. These techniques are:

Implementation Intentions

Norms

Salience

Procedural Justice

Incentives

Reputation

Ease

Implementation intentions are encouragements to set specific actionable goals to bridge the gap between intention and behaviour. Research has shown that behavioural intentions do not always translate to action due to a wide variety of cognitive factors like poor motivation or forgetfulness. Getting people to establish clear steps and realistic timelines helps them initiate and follow through with behaviours. An example would be instructions and opportunities for people to write down their intentions and schedule their actions.

Norms provide information about how a social group commonly behaves and their expectations of others. People use social norms as guides for modifying their own behaviour to fit in with those around them. The two types of norms are descriptive norms, which explain how common a particular behaviour is, and injunctive norms, which highlight the approval of different behaviours.

Salience refers to cues that draw attention to both the communication as a whole and to specific information in the communication itself. The goal is to make the communication stand out among the many others that people may receive and orient them to the most important elements like next steps. When people have limited time, motivation, or energy, information that doesn’t attract attention is ignored. Some examples of employing salience include personalizing communications and using bold characters, colours, or images.

Procedure justice focuses on the perception of a process’s fairness and transparency. People want to understand why they are receiving the communication and why action on their behalf is needed. Communications can meet those needs by explaining the process, options, and reasoning in a clear and respectful manner.

Incentives are rewards for particular behaviours.  Communications can highlight the benefits of an action and the negative consequences of inaction. Tangible incentives and disincentives like monetary rewards or fines may also be effective. However, it is important to note that extrinsically incentivized behaviours are likely to stop if the incentives do too. This technique may not be sustainable and therefore, more suited for motivating one-time actions.

The reputation or credibility of a communication’s source is an importance factor for its success. People rely on credibility as a cue for evaluating messages, especially when they don’t have the time, capacity, energy, or motivation to process the content carefully. Communicators can establish credibility by being perceived as having expertise in a subject or by sharing a common identity with the audience, like political partisanship.

Lastly, ease refers to reducing the difficulty of processing communications and performing the intended behaviours. Text should be written concisely and organized in a clear way using elements like bullets, headings, and spacing. Putting the most important points and actions at the beginning makes them easier to process because people have more mental energy at the start.

The authors highlight several examples where their INSPIRE framework has been effective, such as increasing compliance for driver medical exams by 23 percent and increasing influenza vaccination among Aboriginal children by 34 percent. However, they also emphasize the need for further research on how the different strategies interact with each other and how to select the ideal technique or group of techniques for a particular context. Written communication is always limited by space, so not all the techniques can be used together at once. It may also not be appropriate or effective to do so.

It is essential to test the effect of each technique in the context of its application. For example, depending on how an individual’s behaviour compares to a norm, the norm message can either encourage or discourage behaviour. Testing is necessary to ensure the intended behaviour is promoted. Randomized controlled trials are a staple in behavioural science research and should be used to evaluate communications with sample target populations before implementing them on a wider scale.

Citation

Faulkner, N., Borg, K., Bragge, P., Curtis, J., Ghafoori, E., Goodwin, D., … & Wright, B. (2019). The INSPIRE Framework: How Public Administrators Can Increase Compliance with Written Requests Using Behavioral Techniques. Public Administration Review, 79(1), 125-135. https://doi.org/10.1111/puar.13004

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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