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Launching three years of innovation in behaviour change

By: Nick Stanhope
On: 30th July 2013
Organisation name: We Are What We Do
Project name: We Are What We Do Social Innovation

April 2013 marked the start of a very exciting three-year partnership between Nominet Trust and We Are What We Do, that will see us create a series of new behaviour change products capable of delivering measurable social impact at scale.

Annika Small, CEO at Nominet Trust: We are committed to scaling the social impact of its funded projects. We recognise that there are a number of routes to scaling, ranging from simply sharing ideas and outcomes to licensing services to strengthening and growing organisations so that they can support more beneficiaries. Each present opportunities to increase impact and each require different investment approaches. Nominet Trust is delighted to be working with We Are What We Do over the next three years to help build their R&D capacity so that they can extend their social innovation design process. This 3-year investment reflects Nominet Trust’s commitment to tailored funding approaches which support organisations to increase their social impact.

Here is We Are What We Do’s CEO, Nick Stanhope to explain more about it:  After working together to establish and grow two previous digital products, Historypin and Internet Buttons this partnership represents a broader, longer-term commitment to our implicit, product based approach to behaviour change. The model of social innovation that underpins these products has been evolving for many years, growing out of a better understanding of the limitations of our early, communications based work at We Are What We Do. As successful as much of this work was, we wanted to close the gap between our outputs and tangible, sustainable changes in behaviour, as well as reach larger, more diverse audiences with a less explicit approach.

The structure of this partnership with Nominet Trust is based upon a recurring research and development process, made up of four stages that take us from the definition of a focal issue, through six months of research, into the design and refinement of product concepts and, finally, the development and testing of a prototype. At this point, from our experience, we have accumulated everything we need to secure substantial second stage funding for wider pilot activity, such as large scale randomised control tests, and for full development and launch phases.

Alongside the delivery of this model, we will question, measure and refine it. Its rare and exciting to have the chance to look critically at your own work in such a detailed and open way, over a sustained period of time. Just as we now look back at our methods in 2008/09, when we first applied a basic version of this model to inter-generational issues, and see how much we’ve moved on, so we’ll look forward to looking back regularly over the next three years.

In fact, even in the first three months of delivery, this model has already been refined pretty substantially! The arrival, supported by this project, of our new Research and Evaluation Director, Kathleen Collett, has immediately added a rigour to our work and methods, reflected in pretty much everything we do. While the ripples of these improvements to the model are currently being felt internally, we also have a strong remit to open up our approach to others through the project. We’ll look forward to sharing all our data, insights and ideas at every step.

This year, the issue to which we will apply our model of social innovation is mental health.

After the next phase of research, we’ll be releasing data and insights that will reveal more about how we plan to marry this issue with our approach, but at this stage we already know why its such an important piece of work and so relevant to what we do.

Firstly, mental illness is the largest single source of burden of disease in the UK, with a massive human and social cost, as well as an economic cost of £105 billion a year (Centre for Mental Health, 2010). The huge effects of poor mental health, therefore, justify as much attention and innovation as can be supported.

Secondly, mental health is strongly connected to our everyday behaviours, in terms of cause, effect and improvement. This isn’t, of course, to dismiss the many other source of influence, such as genetic links, but behavioural interventions at all levels have proved effective as both treatment and prevention.

Thirdly, mental well-being is an issue that can benefit from an implicit approach. There is still considerable stigma attached to mental illness, which many organisations, like the Mental Health Foundation, Mind and Rethink Mental Illness are all fighting to change. Alongside this vital work, we need to design more interventions, particularly around prevention, that don’t rely on formal or personal diagnoses and can positively affect everyone’s behaviour and mental well-being.

Implicit influences that improve our mental well-being and boost our resilience should surround us - at school, in the workplace, on the high street, online. While this is kind of approach to “default healthiness” is developing rapidly around physical health (along there is still a very, very long way to go, as our work on obesity has helped us understand), similar work around mental health feels a long way behind.

Over the next nine months, we’ll look forward to sharing our efforts to contribute to this.