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Using the nudge technique to reduce food waste

Widespread public behaviour change will play an important part in ensuring that we meet the Scottish Government's key pledge to find the nation's contribution to the climate emergency by 2045.

Using behavioural insights can help us to understand how people actually act, which can help create more effective solutions. Using behavioural interventions alongside strategic level approaches can generate positive feedback to increase the effectiveness of both and encourage large scale behaviour change to reduce emissions.

A valuable approach to changing people’s behaviour is to introduce a nudge. Many different frameworks have been created to aid the development of behavioural interventions like nudging. This guide provides an introduction to how using Nudge Theory works in practice, using food waste reduction in a school dining hall as a case study. For the trial we used the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) BASIC Framework which places emphasis on first understanding behaviours to then develop effective solutions.

The process involves the following steps:

  • Identify behaviours;
  • Analyse biases;
  • Design strategies;
  • Test interventions;
  • Scale for change.

Trialling a behavioural intervention takes a significant amount of time, planning and work to effectively implement and evaluate the intervention. However, approaching behaviour change in this way offers valuable insights, allowing us to understand what’s driving behaviours, what works to change those behaviours and what interventions need further development.

Recommendations from this case study guide:

  • Work collaboratively with stakeholders to spot opportunities and limitations for change;
  • Collect data to create a good baseline in order to determine impact;
  • Understand your audience – through observations or interviews – and develop your behavioural intervention to fit their interests;
  • Test interventions one at a time, so any change can be attributed to a particular intervention – and you can reflect on the process;
  • Be prepared to be flexible and adaptable – with the methodology and with the intervention itself;
  • Be reflective – whether a success or not, take what you learnt forward and use it to develop other behavioural interventions;
  • Consider ethical concerns at each stage of the project, to make sure you have thought about the impacts the behavioural intervention might have.

Read the report ‘How to systematically trial behavioural interventions to change the common behaviours which contribute to the climate crisis guide’. 

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