To help answer this question, let’s borrow two different methods for behavioral change, one from the field of organizational development and the other from social marketing.
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) springs from the field of organizational development and helps an organization grow from its strengths. People leading appreciative inquiries search for the employees who are extraordinarily productive, people on fire with a sense of purpose. They study the conditions that support these productive staff members’ success so the conditions can be replicated elsewhere in the organization. This process of discovery varies by organization since different variables are in play.
By contrast, the approach to behavioral change called Community-Based Social Marketing (CBSM) is more prescriptive. People applying CBSM know what specific sustainable activities they want people to adopt and identify the potential barriers to adopting that behavior change.
Let’s say we want employees to turn off their computers at night to save energy. There may be several reasons why computers are left on:
- people forget,
- they don’t think computers use much energy,
- they don’t know how to change their computer settings,
- IT staff ask people to leave computers on at night so they can install security patches and back up files.
By using prompts and education, as well as systemic changes like moving file storage to the cloud, CBSM practitioners can address and overcome each of these barriers.
Which approach is more effective to behavioral change: AI or CBSM? This depends on the situation. If we have a prescriptive outcome in mind then CBSM may be more effective; whereas if we want to develop an organization-specific solution organically, AI is a good approach.
The “heliotropic hypothesis” borrows its name from the flower called the heliotrope that over the course of a day turns its flowers and leaves toward the sun. This hypothesis states that social forms evolve toward the “light.” Both AI and CBSM seek the sunlight of an effective solution even though they start from different frames.