Behaviour Change Hints: Divisable and End-State Behaviours

Monday 27 February 2012
Doug McKenzie-Mohr, Ph.D

When considering which behaviours to target in our programs, we should given special attention to two factors: no behaviour should be divisible; and each behaviour should be end-state. The importance of each factor is described below. 

Divisible Behaviours

Divisible behaviours refer to those actions that can be divided further. For instance, many residential energy efficiency programs encourage adding additional insulation as a way to reduce home energy use substantially. However, adding additional insulation to a home can be further divided into adding insulation to the attic, the external shell (walls), or the basement. Why does it matter that a list of residential energy-efficiency behaviours specify adding insulation to attics, walls and basements rather than just adding additional insulation? Each of these behaviours differ substantively in the barriers that are associated with them.

I recently added insulation to our attic to improve the energy efficiency of our home and reduce its CO2 footprint. This was a fairly simple process that involved a contractor blowing additional insulation into our attic. Completing the task took the contractor several hours and was relatively inexpensive. In contrast, adding additional insulation to the external shell of our home involved substantial cost, time and effort. Since the barriers to sustainable behaviours are often behaviour-specific, it is critical to begin by listing behaviours that are non-divisible. Failing to do so will leave you with categories of behaviours in which the behaviours that make up a category (e.g., adding insulation to a home) may differ dramatically in their associated barriers and benefits.

End-State Behaviours

In addition to your behaviours being non-divisible, you also need verify that they are end-state. End-state refers to the behaviour that actually produces the desired environmental outcome. For instance, the purchase of compact fluorescent light bulbs or the installation of programmable thermostats are not end-state behaviours. Our principal interest is not in having homeowners purchase compact fluorescent light bulbs, but rather in having them install them. Similarly, our principal interest is not in having homeowners install programmable thermostats, but rather in having them program them.

Frequently, environmental programs encourage prior behaviours and fail to achieve the end-state behavioural changes that matter. To determine whether a behaviour is end-state, simply ask:“Will engaging in this behaviour produce the desired environmental outcome, or will the target audience need to do something else before the desired outcome is achieved?” If they need to engage in another behaviour before the desired environmental outcome is achieved, you have not selected an end-state behaviour.

Having created a list of non-divisible, end-state behaviours your next task is to compare these behaviours to determine which are worth promoting. This involves analyzing the following three characteristics of each behaviour:

  1. How impactful is the behaviour?
  2. How probable is it that my target audience will engage in the behaviour?
  3. What level of penetration has the behaviour already obtained with my target audience?

By following the above process we can be more confident that our programs are targeting behaviours which will maximize the impact of our programs.

This article was written by Doug McKenzie-Mohr, Ph.D, McKenzie-Mohr & Associates Inc.

Learn more at up-coming Introductory & Advanced Community-Based Social Marketing Training & Consultations

Anyone who is involved in behaviour change will benefit from the up-coming series of introductory and advanced community-based social marketing (CBSM) workshops. 

These workshops will be of interest to those working to promote water and energy efficiency, waste reduction, modal transportation shifts, watershed protection, and other sustainable behaviour changes. Those who work to promote behavioural changes that promote health, such as active lifestyles, will also benefit from attending.

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