This week I attended Griffith University’s Change Conference 2019 that has been organised by our Social Marketing group.

I attended this conference last year (see previous blog) and this year I continued to be blown away by the stellar speakers and insights on influencing, marketing and bringing about behavioural and social change.


Communication, risk groups, and side effects

One of the keynotes this year was Steve Menzies from Flinch Marketing who has done amazing work in New Zealand and Samoa in a campaign to save one of Samoa’s indigenous birds, Manumea, that has almost been on the brink of extinction.

Another great keynote by Jeff Jordan from RESCUE Agency who spoke about the importance of understanding your audience, that most of the time marketing campaigns in  health for example focus on the mainstream audience, and not the actual at risk group.

With all of the keynotes, I have been reminded of two critical aspects of influencing: understand who you actually need to communicate to, what is the group/segment of the population that we really need to reach, and what messages actually resonate with them.

We often preach to the converted with mainstream messaging but if people cannot see themselves in that ad campaign, they will pass that message by and say “this is not for me”.

By understanding what resonates with what audience is pretty basics when it comes to marketing, yet curiously we seem to forget that it does matter.

For example, much of the communication around climate change is still often focused on messaging for the population who already gets that there is a problem and that we need to change the ways we do things.

When doing marketing and trying to enable behavioural change, we often do focus on the key things we want to see to change.

But we need to also pay attention to the “side effects” that can happen because of particular actions and campaigns.

For example, campaigns have ways to increase what we researchers call “social capital” via getting people together, and enabling deeper discussions and connections within a neighbourhood or community by everyone uniting behind a cause (e.g. conservation of a specific bird or bird species).

It is these more intangible changes and benefits that we don’t even know how to measure, we see these happening but have hard time explaining in the final report what really happened and why it is so meaningful.

Yet, behavioural change is one of those intangible issues because we often don’t have good data in showing how that change has actually taken place but also how people’s lives have changed or new sense of ownership can and has emerged in a community.


Lived experience as key for better services and innovation  

A consistent theme in particular throughout the second day was the importance of lived experience as the grounds for even defining what the problem is that needs solving.

Luke van der Beeke from The Behaviour Change Collaborative  for example traced several paradigms that many of us have grown to believe but where we still fall short: that co-production and co-creation are important but we often do these in a tokenistic way where we have already defined the problem and just need the community to agree with us.

The following slide explains for example what a climate health workshop participant had to say about that:


This is a key because if we do not co-create the problem definition in a way that is accurate, we are likely to produce more problems on the ground rather than solve the ones that actually need solving.

For me, this has clear implications when we discuss adaptation to climate change: many of the “solutions” might actually increase or result in maladaptation (adaptation that creates negative consequences) if we do not understand the context and people’s lived experience.

One great example of putting the customer in the centre came from Asthma Australia  that has established a Customer Council consisting of 12 ordinary Australians who have asthma.

These people have played a key role in directing the new branding, and the set of services and activities that are tailored to reach the population with asthma and beyond.

It is their lived experience and diversity that has enabled Asthma Australia to become a truly customer-centred organisation rather than an organisation that plans for the customer in a tokenistic manner.

Another example was Bendigo Bank’s Community Banks’ Be the Change video that shows the impact what community banks can deliver in regional communities via a community banking model where the profits of the bank are directly invested in the community.

They have enabled netball groups, men’s groups, and other community groups to flourish and continue with their activities, and the video is a testament to this vision.

No wonder they have been named by Fortune as one of the top 56 financial organisations making a difference globally and have earned a Harvard Business Review article highlighting what “doing well by doing good” approach can achieve: changed communities.


What can we learn from social marketing for climate adaptation?

All of this lived experience and community connections tell a story that we cannot bypass any longer, a story of people and what change means for them.

This has led me to reflect also on my own field, climate adaptation, and the relevant key takeaways from these two days.

Understand who you are communicating to and how: Too often we don’t explicitly outline from the beginning of our adaptation projects the diversity of participants and audience to whom we should be communicating with.

By using better segmentation, identifying which groups are more likely to see themselves in the kinds of messages that we need to get across, we can enable perhaps faster behaviour change and mindshifts in what it means to live in a changing climate.

I loved the example from Jeff Jordan about this in the health space where they identified clearly that the main at-risk group to smoking pot was a particular youth group (hip hop culture) and in the ad it is a teenager from that group who delivers the health messages by rap music.

In combination with the target group identification, we also need to make sure that our messages of benefits can actually challenge the norms:


Hence, the very framing, the way we use words, is crucial so that we can enable positive behavioural change that also challenges how people see themselves now and what they wish to see in their future.


Incorporating the lived experience in identifying solutions: People’s experiences of changing climate are integral in supporting sustainable climate adaptation.

By treating any target groups more as key customers vs. passive recipients can enable us to use such methods as design thinking in co-creating solutions and even identifying problems and working from there to a solution.

The diversity of people and communities means that there are so many different ways in even defining what the problem is, and the mechanisms and levers that are needed in sustaining initiatives in the long-term.

Behavioural change is hard, but as Clinton Schultz from Sobah reminded us in his key note, it begins from within and is often a personal choice of what our best version of ourselves is and can be.

This relates also closely to measuring impact and whether the programs and initiatives actually bring about long-term change.

This is particularly difficult when it comes to climate adaptation as we often focus on preparing communities for changes in trends (heatwaves, increase in intensity of storms, increasing sea levels) while being reminded that future-oriented thinking is still rather rare.

Tom Perry from the World Bank for example shared with us the story how they captured the stories from Fiji that make up the 360 Virtual Reality video “Our home, Our people” that was presented at COP23 so that delegates could watch it in Bonn but understand the Fijian experiences and reality of what it means to live with climate change impacts.

By understanding people’s experiences and issues, we can at least attempt a more people-centric adaptation that builds on needs and aspirations.

Part of harnessing this experience could be setting up Adaptation Citizen Advisory Groups similar to Asthma Australia that would consist of a variety of ordinary citizens who all have to adapt in a particular region or sector.

By harnessing these views, experiences and perceptions, we can gain incredible insights and also make adaptation into a more easily accessible, understood and mainstream practice and experience.

All in all, totally awesome conference and cannot wait for Change Conference 2020!!