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Making Change Easy: Lessons from the Prepaid Envelope

Posted on June 3, 2019
By Galen MacLusky

EnvelopeCommunity Innovation is all about change - change at the individual, group, and organizational levels. Whether we’re trying to get a new policy adopted, encourage businesses to contribute more to local community, or create more spaces for community members to meet and play, we are in the business of trying to create positive change in our community. An important part of that process is that people also need to change as well. Politicians need to change policies, business leaders need to decide how best to work with community, and community members need to come out and use the spaces we create. 

Often our approach to these types of changes is to appeal to hearts and minds - convincing people of the need to act and change. How much of your time as a changemaker is focused on telling stories, convincing, and appealing to those you hope to change?

Now, consider the opposite. How many messages to change do you receive in your personal life? How many places are telling you to exercise more, drink less alcohol, eat more fruits and veggies, donate to local charities, contribute to a volunteer organization, and so on? If you don’t do these things, is it because you don’t care about them or believe they’re important?

What if we shifted our focus away from convincing people of the importance of change, and instead worked to make those changes as easy as possible? There is a strong body of evidence in the field of Behavioural Insights that suggests that people’s decisions are far less motivated by belief and preference than we assume, and much more by situation and circumstance. By making change as easy as possible, we might see much greater success than if we tried to convince people of the need to change.

The prepaid envelope is a simple example of someone thinking about how to make change (in this case, responding to a letter) as easy as possible. We don’t have to find a stamp or write down the address ourselves, it’s already done for us. Some direct mail campaigns even go so far as to pre-check the boxes they want you to complete. All you need to do is fill in your information and put it in the mailbox.

If you’re feeling stuck in trying to convince people in the community to change, switching your focus to making those changes as easy as possible might be a helpful way to move forward. Fortunately, behavioural psychologists have been extensively studying what makes things hard or easy for people, and this field of knowledge gives community changemakers a fantastic set of tools to approach encouraging individual change. To learn more, check out Tamarack’s recent paper on Behavioural Insights: Small Changes for Big Impacts.

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Community Innovation, Blog, Community Change, Galen MacLusky

Galen MacLusky

By Galen MacLusky

While Galen was at Tamarack he led the Community Innovation Idea Area. He is passionate about working with community organizations to help build and scale new ideas that deepen their impact. An experienced design, innovation, and co-creation consultant, at the core of his work are approaches that help organizations engage with those who are impacted by their services and test new programs and services with minimal investment. Over the past five years, Galen has used these approaches to help Fortune 500 companies and non-profit organizations across North America reinvent the services and programs they provide.

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