The times they are a changing

Image Chris Lawton CCO

If we are going to have any chance of hitting the UN’s global goals the behaviours and attitudes of individuals and groups are going to have to change. What is the most effective way of achieving this and what are some of the challenges that will have to be addressed? This is the essence of SUII’s latest call for proposals aimed at accelerating progress towards the SDG’s. We are very grateful to Zero Waste Scotland for co-investing with us in this programme.  

The context in which the call is set is the Covid pandemic and successful projects will, like others in the SDG programme, have to adapt to the constraints and opportunities offered by undertaking knowledge exchange events online. The impact of Covid-19 may offer an opportunity to stimulate change, given the shock to the system. However, while the pandemic provides important context, we are looking for longer term outcomes which help achieve the goals. 

The pandemic also offers an interesting context to the whole agenda of behavioural and attitudinal change. Governments at all levels are currently wrestling with how to promote and encourage action from across their populations that will best keep the virus under control. We have already seen how some people can react badly to restrictions when, from their perspective, they see their personal freedoms being constrained. Are sticks or carrots the best tools to employ? To what extent do underlying cultural norms have a role to play? For example, much has been made of the Swedish approach to society that has facilitated a more voluntary approach, in contrast to other countries with a more individualistic culture.  

The work of behavioural psychologists and economists should be able to offer insights. How things are framed is likely to have a significant bearing on how people react. Who messages come from will also be important, ‘reactive devaluation’ is well recognised as a very influential cognitive bias. As is ‘confirmation bias’, which appears to be all too evident in the various conspiracy theories that are growing arms and legs. 

At one level the pandemic has diverted attention from some of the critical longer term challenges articulated in the Global Goals. Yet hopefully as we try to come to terms with its impact on our health and economy we can also build on the knowledge and experience of our academics, policy makers, practitioners and the wider public to learn more about how we influence the changes in behaviour needed to achieve the fairer, healthier, safer, greener, more resilient world inherent in the SDGs.  

Author: scotinsight

The Scottish Universities Insight Institute supports programmes of knowledge exchange which address and provide insight on substantial issues that face Scotland and the wider world. Our programmes break down disciplinary and organisational barriers in bringing together academics from different backgrounds, policymakers and practitioners to mobilise existing knowledge in fresh ways through sustained and collaborative focus on a shared issue. Our member universities are: Aberdeen, Dundee, Heriot Watt, St Andrews, Strathclyde, and Glasgow School of Art.

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