Is data the gentle nudge we need to inspire, and maintain, positive behaviour change?

Mar 2, 2020 |3 min read
positive behaviour change meaningful connections

In a notification-heavy, always on, technology driven world, emails and communications from brands can easily be missed amidst the chaos of jam-packed inboxes, social media feeds and the general buzz of our phones…

Recently, we at 2CV have been reflecting on the refreshing way some brands use our personal data to cut through and perhaps more importantly, how it can be highly effective in encouraging positive behaviour change. Fitness and sustainability are just two areas where organisations are cleverly analysing our personal data and giving it back to us to promote positive changes, respectively championing individual, and wider societal, goals.

The sporting world is one that has always relied on data as a source of inspiration. From Bannister's 4-minute mile in 1954 to Kipchoge's (albeit slightly controversial) breaking of the 2-hour marathon mark just last year. Sport's biggest moments in history are impressive in the way that they revolve around a seemingly impossible, individual achievement. For the world's top athletes, data is an extension of their very name; they can proudly wear record-breaking titles and finally bask in glory after years of exhausting training plans. The data they always dreamed of is theirs and, at least temporarily, theirs alone.

However, impressive as these feats are…sporting data is now, clearly not exclusive to the sporting elite. Increasingly sophisticated data collection from wearable devices and smartphones is continually encouraging people, like you and me, to keep working towards our fitness goals. Indeed, the sporting market has arguably been one of the most innovative data spaces over the last decade and has been highly successfully in inspiring positive behaviour change. The likes of Fitbit, Park Run's '50 club', Strava, and, most recently, Peloton, are all powerful in the way that they continue to motivate individuals to walk/run/cycle that little bit further/harder/longer. The 'uniqueness' of the data is also a breath of fresh air for many; it's not about re-living the old school PE days of "Who is the fastest sprinter?" but rather about celebrating individual goals, no matter how 'small' these may be.

Data need not be completely self-focused though. When reflecting on the various 2019 'Years in Review', my colleague Ellie mentioned in her last post, 2CVers were quick to praise organisations like Oddbox and Trainline who used the opportunity to celebrate small wins for sustainability. Deciding to buy from Oddbox saved the equivalent of 72kg of fruit & veg going to landfill for one 2CVer and in my case, travelling by train (vs. car) to various parts of the UK in 2019 reduced my carbon emissions by 85%.

It's difficult to know at this point the direct impact sharing this kind of data has in encouraging consumers to live more sustainably. BUT at a time when the reality of climate change is inescapable and many are feeling  unsure and overwhelmed by what they can do to help, surely it can only be a positive thing that environmental behaviour changes, albeit small ones, are being celebrated and shared.  As we work towards the 2050 Net Zero target, brands and organisations must continue to think carefully about how they can encourage the widespread adoption of more sustainable behaviours. Tangible data, showing progress, can at least provide reassurance that individual efforts are worthwhile and represent steps in the right direction. 

The ultimate challenge, of course, lies in the difficulty of sustaining new behaviours in the day-to-day realities of our hectic lives. Yes, data can motivate, inspire and prompt change, but naturally, it must still work hard to keep us on track and be kind to us on the days that it's just not going to happen. Without trying to paint too overly a 'rosy' picture, this, for me, is where collective data can be so powerful. 

Whether it be the celebration of combined fitness achievements - I particularly love the constantly updating, data breakdown from Park Run showcasing PR achievements on a global scale on their website - or any (hopefully increasing) examples of success in the fight against climate change, collective data proves that positive change can happen. It need not be about the actions of an isolated individual but rather, a community of people all working towards the same goal. In this light, data can be the gentle nudge we all need to inspire, and maintain, positive behaviour change.