Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Behavior Change Experiment: Minnesota Association of Museums

Shared transport to Ely conference from Twin Cities.
Thanks to the Minnesota Transportation Museum!
I just presented a keynote during my time at the Minnesota Association of Museums conference. 
The theme was Creating Healthy Communities. My topic was sustainability, no surprise there, but I tried a new approach. Instead of talking about what everyone else was doing in the field, we talked about ourselves and the change we want to be. 
It started with an exploration of the false conundrum of either/or: what's more important, many people doing small things, or a person focusing only on high-impact changes?
I know that scaled change is critical for mitigating climate change, and I believe that a person is able to support scaled change only if they practice change themselves. So both are critical, and I discuss personal behavior change wherever possible, and plan scaled change whenever able.
Behavior change begins with raising Awareness, then progresses through 
-building Knowledge,
-creating a new Attitude,
-developing Skills,
-and then Advocating for change on a larger scale.
So I challenged the attendees to change their own practice or to ask someone to do so. In the process they would call attention to a behavior that could be made more sustainable, and would begin the journey to change. As a practitioner, they would build their own practice to larger impacts; as a model they would stimulate others to do the same.
And so we began our informal experiment. Here's what we learned:
1a) They SO appreciated awareness of a new way to look at a situation, and to be shown a clear and simple path to the new practice. For many this was to put the "Do Not Disturb" sign in their hotel room handle so Housekeeping wouldn't spend resources on replacing partially-used toiletries, removing nearly-empty plastic garbage bags and replacing them with new empty ones, using chemicals to clean, and changing out sheets or towels.
1b) They discovered that the barrier had been their personal concern that others would think they were lazy or had stayed out too late. We needed to change the framing of the behavioral perceptions by making it a positive green practice and statement.
2a) They so appreciated the information that 500 million plastic straws are thrown away DAILY in the US. Some didn't realize how easily this waste ends up blown out of a bin during transfer, or out of the landfill, or off the surface of a water processing system, and eventually into our waterways where it harms wildlife. Their awareness and knowledge took a big leap forward.
2b) They so appreciated the encouragement and permission to ask a server not to provide a straw. Some reported planning to carry a reusable straw with them, and to use them at home.
2c) They struggled when they forgot to ask the server for no straw. The guilt was painful. We discussed how guilt just interferes with the process. Let it go! Instead, set your intention for asking next time when you first meet the server. Our goal is continuous improvement; perfection comes in the next generation.

Bravo Charles - He got the first sticker
3a) If you changed a behavior you could ask for a sticker for your badge. You'd get a high-five from the conference leaders and show your friends what you'd done. Many did so, but for the rest of the many, "Minnesota Nice" got in the way of the broadcasting activity beyond the moment, and few wanted to label their activity with a sticker on their badge. The goal had been to cover our badges with stickers. That's because in Minnesota they're "All above average but no one wants to stand out". Many said that it mattered more that they knew they made the change. That's a lesson for being sure you know your audience as well as possible as you design your behavior change campaign.
3b) Some argued that to bring about the change, they had to model behavior change, so why not use the sticker to spread the word - why not change the Minnesota Nice behavior? We decided a tick-mark rather than a sticker would be a good option.
3c) They told me that what mattered most was that the leader - moi - would demonstrate the behavior. I was happy to!
The results?
- It looks like we influenced everyone's straw use and hotel room practices, and their practice of intentional resource use is expanding.
- The staff from the Bear Center offered to take back the lanyards for reuse, and to collect any extra pens for sharing at the student resource center at the community college.
- The hotel staff approached me to explain what green practices they pursued, and ones they didn't realize the hotel was doing until they started asking questions.
- One museum is now planning their first zero-waste event!

Wow - what fantastic results, and those are just the ones I've heard about in the few days since the meeting. 
Thank you to all of the attendees for working so intentionally with me, learning together, and exploring how museums can green their communities.

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