Sign In

Understanding readiness for change

THE FIRST of the Sydney Transition Initiative Network Group’s (STING) mutual training events focused on the idea that people occupy different stages of readiness in regard to making changes to their thinking and behaviours related to sustainable living.

Fiona Campbell explains the readines for change phases.
Sustainability educator, Fiona Campbell, explains the phases behind a person’s readiness for change.

STING is the creation of people associated with TransitionSydney, TransitionMarrickville and Transition Darlinghurst Surry Hills. The aim is to stimulate and cultivate a community of practice among those involved in transition initiatives so as to improve their skills and effectiveness. This would be similar to the community of practice that has developed around the Sydney Facilitators’ Network in which some of those at the STING event participate. The idea is that transition groups become learning organisations, evaluating what they do to derive learnings and adding new ideas and skills.

The STING initiative is coordinated by TransitionSydney within its role as a transition hub offering support and assistance to other transition initiatives.

This first STING event took place on 14 October at the Blues Point Community Centre in North Sydney.

Assessing readiness for change

The event was led by Fiona Campbell, a Sydney sustainability educator working with local government, and was based on the work of US community and business sustainability educator and author, Bob Doppelt.

Doppelt is executive director of Resource Innovations, a sustainability research and technical assistance program, and of the Climate Leadership Initiative of the Institute for a Sustainable Environment at the University of Oregon. His most recent book is The Power of Sustainable Thinking, released by Earthscan publishing in 2008.

Behavioural change now the focus

Encouraging behavioural change among participants in workshops and courses is now the focus for sustainability educators, especially those in local government and others working with the corporate sector. How to do this has, until recently, not been a topic of conversation. Now, however, educators are paying attention to models for  attitudinal, thinking and behavioural change developed in other fields of knowledge in the past, and that are being repurposed for sustainabilty education by leading thinkers. Bob Doppelt is one of these.

Doppelt has taken the behavioural change model developed by health psychology practitioner, James Prochaska, and substantially adapted it for sustainability education.  Prochaska developed the Transtheoretical Model for identifying and targeting people based on their readiness for change.

Prochaska’s model of personal change

Prochaska’s model of how people move through stages in change over time was developed for use in the health field, however sustainability educators have found it applicable to understanding how individuals move through change related to sustainability behaviour.

The model can be summarised as six stages:

  • precontemplative — there is no intention to take action to change attitudes and behaviours in the immediate future
  • contemplative — people intend to make changes in the near future
  • preparation — there is intention to start making attitudinal and behavioural changes within weeks
  • action —change is starting or has recently started and remains at an early stage
  • maintenance — change is ongoing and those making the change grapple with the challenge of keeping it going
  • termination — changes are now established and built into the individual’s life.

Understanding readiness improves delivery

The purpose of understanding the models of personal change and of learning where people attending a program, workshop or course are on the continuum of change is to tailor messages and programs for specific demographics so as to increase their effectiveness. If transition initiatives are to become effective, a better understanding of the way in which people move into change is needed.

Prochaska’s ideas have some currency among sustainability educators, though it is uncommon to find his or Doppelt’s approach among those active with community organisations. Fiona uses Doppelt’s ideas in her sustainability education work.

An understanding of people’s readiness for change — the phase of change they presently occupy — avoids falling into the trap of making glib and dismissive responses such as ‘preaching to the converted’ and of using tactics such as inducing feelings of personal guilt, as has been favoured by the environment movement. Doppelt offers a more sophisticated understanding and response.


The 5Ds

Based on his work in sustainability education, Doppelt further developed and adapted Prochaska’s ideas and asks what triggers personal behavioural change in regard to sustainability thinking, and what pathways people follow through change of that type. To facilitate comprehension, he has developed the 5D model.

The first D — Disinterest

In this stage, there is no intention to change attitudes or behaviours towards sustainable living and no interest in doing so.

Characteristics of people in the disinterest phase include:

  • a personal attitude opposed to change
  • little awareness of global and other challenges
  • denial that their behaviour contributes to the problem
  • the attitude that personal efforts are inconsequential
  • a lack of hope in the future
  • a lack of belief that they can contribute to change.

The second D — Deliberation

The attitude prevalent here is that people might change.

It is characterised by:

  • a start to acknowledging the challenges we face
  • a start to seriously considering a change to personal thinking and behaviour
  • a start to gathering information that could lead to change
  • a personal struggle to understand
  • overestimating the disadvantages of change.

The third D — Design

Here, the individual is preparing to make changes.

Characteristics include:

  • the benefits of becoming a sustainability thinker are believed to overcome the costs of doing so
  • the design of a plan for adopting new thinking and behaviours in the near future
  • the making of a few small changes
  • incomplete but ongoing resolution of ambivalence towards the effectiveness of and desire to make behavioural and attitudinal changes
  • the continuation of an oscillating attitude that is not likely to be resolved until the benefits are seen to more fully outweigh the disadvantages.

The fourth D — Doing

This is the phase in which changes have been made and are continuing:

  • action is being takes to modify behaviour
  • a great deal of commitment is required to persevere with personal change
  • making changes puts the individual under scrutiny
  • the benefits of change are seen to be worth the effort.

The fifth D — Defending

Changes have been made, and this phase focuses on maintaining them. It is equivalent to Prochaska’s ‘maintaining’ classification.

Characteristics include:

  • making changes and sticking with them over the long term
  • the defence of personal behavioural changes in the face of resistance from others
  • the need to continually overcome obstacles and recover from setbacks
  • repeated attempts to change.


Achieving success

The key to success in working with people is to understand their readiness for change. In a workshop or sustainability course, an understanding of this can be gained by asking strategic questions of individuals or of the group. Education packages can then be adapted according to the phases of change occupied by individuals.

According to Fiona, most of the participants in her Living Smart course are in the ‘deliberation’, ‘design’ and ‘doing’ phases, although she has had some in the ‘defending’ stage.

The presence of people in this phase could be seen as preaching to the converted, however that would be to misinterpret it. Certainly, they are ‘converted’ and practicing sustainability thinking and behaviours. However there presence is, in part, to learn more and to update their knowledge, giving their participation a ‘further education’ function.

Building a tension for behavioural change and emphasising the benefits of change early on, when working with groups and individuals, is done in parallel with dealing with any downside of making changes as they progress.


Occupying multiple stages

A little thought will soon disclose that people can occupy more than one stage of change at the same time.

Three examples:

  • a woman who occupied the doing and defending stages of sustainable living in most aspects of her life was at the disinterest stage when it came to private car use; this was not based on ignorance of the environmental and carbon emission challenges that private vehicle use entails, but was dictated by the need to travel expediently between home and work and to maintain her schedule around her young child
  • another was a climate change skeptic who believed that climate change exists but that there is no human agency in perpetuating or worsening it; yet, she wanted to live sustainably by adopting new personal practices; she simultaneously occupied the disinterest stage in regard to climate change and the design stage in regard to sustainability thinking
  • another was an influential person in the environment movement who drove a large, four wheel drive vehicle around the city, suggesting the occupation of the disinterest, doing and defending stages at the same time.

What this discloses is that it is normal for individuals to live with contradiction, that people can hold contradictory attitudes and indulge in contradictory behaviours — towards sustainable living in these cases — at the same time. Sustainability educators would do well to see paradox as normal.


An understanding of value

Understanding how people change is a basic and necessary tool for any social change agent.

Basing approaches to education and influence on the understandings developed by Bob Doppelt is something that separates the informed sustainability educator from those in other social movements that focus on political change alone.

Read more on sustainability education:

Comments (1)

  • marutaake
    April 12, 2010 at 1:17 am

    I see this as a stage towards behavioural change however I would like to use it if I am allowed for communication.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.