Friday, June 24, 2016

How does human behaviour change help animals?


Have you ever known, for solid reasons, that you should or shouldn’t do something, but gone ahead and behaved differently? (Confession: I had chocolate before breakfast). Have you ever come to the realisation that your behaviour may be having a negative impact on others, despite your best intentions? Humans are complex critters. We spend a lot of time generating and acquiring knowledge, yet we often don’t behave in accordance with that knowledge. In other words, just LEARNING or KNOWING something doesn’t mean our behaviour will change. Which has huge implications regarding animal welfare. As Professor John Webster has said before, “what matters to animals is not what we think, it’s what we do.”

What we do is influenced by all kinds of things – knowledge, emotional states, attitudes and internal physiological states. Suzanne Rogers is organising a conference on Human Behaviour Change and AnimalWelfare in the UK in September. I asked her about the connection between animal welfare and human behaviour change.

Why is human behaviour relevant to animal welfare?

The root cause of arguably most animal suffering is human behaviour, whether directly or indirectly. Traditional approaches to improving animal welfare, however, have focused on providing a service (such as accessible veterinary treatment), or campaigning for people to change their consumer habits. The understanding of why people do what they do, don’t do what you’d like them to, and usually do not change their behaviour, is the holy grail of anyone with something to sell, a campaign to promote or a desire to improve the world whether for humans or animals. 

For animal welfare programmes to be efficient and effective we really must start to put more emphasis on the root causes, and the key root cause is human behaviour. 

How did the idea of this conference come about?

In 2007 I was employed by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA, now World Animal Protection) to develop our working equine projects in a more sustainable way than they were at the time. There was frustration that helping horses seemed like pouring money into a bottomless pot and although there were education elements to the projects the communities were not seeing a lasting change in management and practices that were causing compromised animal welfare. I researched how other sectors attempt to create sustainable changes and discovered that behaviour change of humans has been studied by experts in marketing, psychology, development, and health and education programmes - the knowledge was out there and could be applied to what humans do to animals but had not been fully utilized by most of us working in animal welfare.

As I was working on changing the equine programmes towards a community-based participatory approach to improving welfare I realised that the underlying principles are relevant to all animal welfare issues and I started working on other topics. I had a mouthful of a job title at one point "Programmes Manager for Human Behaviour Change for Animal Welfare" and worked on many different programmes at WSPA.

I realised that other people in other organisations were thinking the same way as me but often working in isolation. I built some strong contacts, a small community of peers all thirsty for knowledge about human behaviour change to apply to our work, many of whom will be at the conference in September. 

In 2011 I left WSPA to work independently as an animal welfare consultant. The first Human Behaviour Change workshop I organised was called 'Human Behaviour Change for Animal Welfare Campaigners" and took place in 2012. The second one in 2014 focused on people working in 1-1 situations to change people's behaviour - vets, behaviourists, animal trainers etc. And after that event I was ready to organise a larger conference, and here we are!

What are the key themes?

Changing the world for animals - one person, one community and one world at a time!
The themes overlap as some principles, techniques and tools for changing human behaviour apply whatever the scale.

What are the intended outcomes?

The importance of considering human behaviour change (HBC) will be highlighted and better understood by those organisations and individuals working to improve animal welfare.
Core elements of HBC theory will be covered through key presentations from leading experts.
The practical application of the key theories will be discussed and shared between delegates through real life examples.
The embedding of HBC in inter-sectoral collaboration, innovation and policy will have been encouraged. 
Novel methods for the monitoring and evaluation of HBC approaches will be explored and evidence-based information illustrating its value will be put forward.
A better way of describing the outcome is through this saying "Tell me and I forget, Show me and I remember, Involve me and I truly understand" Anon. This conference is aiming to involve people in an interactive fun engaging way so that delegates truly understand the importance of addressing human behaviour to drive change for animals.

Any other messages you'd like to get out to veterinarians and veterinary students?


A common misconception about how people process information is that raising awareness leads to behaviour change. Consider nutrition campaigns – it is thought that the majority of the population in the UK know that it is recommended to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day but a poll by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) in 2012 showed that only one in five people actually do. Knowing something does not often lead to a change in behaviour and this is worth exploring because a significant part of the vet’s role is to cause the client to do, or not do, something for the benefit of their animal.

Thank you Suzanne. For more information about the conference click here

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