Influencing behaviours - moving beyond the individual: ISM user guide

A user guide to the individual, social and material (ISM) approach to influencing behaviours.


Influencing how people behave, whether it be using less energy in the home, eating healthily or using public transport rather than driving to work, is often the ultimate goal of government policy. Yet, influencing behaviours can be difficult to achieve, with no off-the-shelf nor 'magic bullet' solutions.

Over recent years, governments across the UK have been applying insights from behavioural science to policy problems. The interested practitioner has several approaches to follow. This ISM user guide belongs in the same tradition, but is different in that it brings together the main concepts from across the principal academic disciplines, and turns them into a practical tool to be used throughout the policy process.

The ISM user guide is therefore designed for policy makers and practitioners whose work ultimately aims at engaging people and influencing their behaviours in order to deliver improved outcomes. ISM should be particularly helpful when facing policy problems where significant levels of social change are required.

ISM is based on 'moving beyond the individual' to consider all of the contexts that shape people's behaviours - the Individual, the Social and the Material. By understanding these different contexts and the multiple factors within them that influence the way people act every day, more effective policies and interventions can be developed.

This user guide introduces and explains the Individual, Social and Material contexts and the different factors that influence behaviours, with various examples that illustrate the applicability of ISM for successfully influencing behaviours. The guide then outlines how the tool can be used in a workshop setting to develop new strategies and ideas, and gives an example developed in a workshop at the Scottish Government (purchasing an electric vehicle). It also briefly notes how ISM can be used to evaluate new and existing interventions.

An accompanying technical guide provides all the background on the development of the tool, and the contextual factors and influences. That guide is effectively a short introduction to the field of behaviour change, seen through the Individual, Social and Material contexts. It also outlines the three main behavioural disciplines that have been brought together within ISM, and provides recommendations for further reading.


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