In his book, Fostering Sustainable Change, Dr. Doug McKenzie-Mohr has written that humans live “in a finite world” which will eventually force us to adopt sustainable practices. The book’s narrative cautions, “While we have no choice regarding whether we eventually adopt these practices, the speed with which they are adopted will determine the grace with which we make this transition.” So, how do we accelerate our efforts to adapt?

Doug McKenzie-Mohr

In a recent interview, Doug indicated that, “We have failed to articulate a vision for sustainable and healthy communities.” He said we need greater feedback on how and whether we are meeting our goals. Doug highlighted the importance of a collective vision, noting that Robert Olson has indicated that there have been no broad-based, large-scale social changes that have not been preceded by an overarching vision of where we’d like to go and how that imagined future is preferable to the present. He suggested that we need to tie this vision to the specific behavioral changes that are required to advance this shared vision.

For more than two decades Doug has been incorporating lessons and methods from social psychology into community development programs. In these more than twenty years of speaking and lecturing on the topic of sustainability and behavior change, he says that he has been “most surprised by how slowly the knowledge of social scientists has been taken up. It is not lack of interest. People are really motivated, but they don’t have the institutional supports that are needed.” Doug said institutions must encourage program managers to do the necessary formative research and run pilot programs before doing broad-sclae programs.

To diffuse innovations faster, Doug recommends two things:

1. Circulate strategy reports online that clarify what has worked well in advancing specific behavioral changes, and

2. Ensure Federal and State agencies fund community-based work according to what works. He suggests agencies issue funding in phases, with funds for pilots issued first with “phase two” funding contingent upon results of the pilot. When the broad-scale implementation is costly, the effectiveness of the pilot should be evaluated by a third-party.

Doug would also like to see social marketing positions created at the state level. These credentialed individuals would have expertise in what works and could be made accessible to agencies and utilities on various issues as needed. This could help agencies break free of the traditional, and largely ineffective information dissemination-focused programs.

Doug is currently working with colleagues on a meta analysis of Community-Based Social Marketing (CBSM), evaluating the relative importance of the five steps CBSM. For more information about his work, see the Fostering Sustainable Behavior website.


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