Have you ever noticed when something new is introduced, or a change of behaviour is requested, people respond differently?

Some embrace change, while others require more consultation and convincing. When asked, each group presents a reason within which their behaviour is acceptable.

How then does one enact change at scale?


Rhetta Chappell (host): Hi, and welcome to Show me the data, a podcast where we discuss evidence-based decision making and the ways in which our lives interact with and create data. I’m Rhetta, your host for today, and I’m a data scientist at Griffith University. Show me the data acknowledges the Jagera peoples who are the traditional custodians of the land on which we are recording today. And we pay respect to the elders past, present and emerging. Today on Show me the data, I’m joined by Professor Shayrn Rundle-Thiele, founding director of Social Marketing @Griffith University, where we’ll be discussing how data informs and drives interventions focused on changing individual and group behaviours. Welcome, and thank you so much for taking the time today Sharyn, and I’m really looking forward to this conversation. So let’s jump right in. You’re the founding director of Social Marketing @Griffith, and from my understanding social marketing seems to have a focus on changing both individual and group behaviours. So to change the way people behave, do you first need to change the way that they think? Or are there other ways to encourage behaviour change?

Professor Sharyn Rundle-Thiele: There’s a whole host of ways we can actually encourage behaviour change. People are social beasts, and we tend to watch what other people do. And we care about what other people think we should do. So some of our work will involve appealing to you giving you information, and from that, some people act. For others, it’s giving them a motivation, like a reason why, and that’s enough for them to act. And then for yet others seeing someone else doing it is how they then move and actually do the behaviours and the things themselves. So that’s just talking about people, and if we’re trying to change ourselves and the patterns of what we do. But there’s also other work in terms of actually working across groups, and social settings, or regions and areas where we work across the people and the stakeholders themselves to try and actually then also gain support to actually make the changes needed to support people to be able to do a behaviour that they want to do.

Rhetta: Okay, great. So, it sounds like you have a very kind of multi layered approach. And you’re obviously monitoring things as they go and as things are happening. And then they’re establishing norms or kind of picking off of what’s working and what’s not working. And so, with that, I’d be really curious, because we work with a lot of different data in a lot of different contexts, as I’m sure you do, too. What sort of processes and methodologies do you follow when you’re collecting data to figure out if this is working, or if we need to try a new approach?

Sharyn: So, data is really critical in helping us understand what people do. And a lot of researchers who have first-hand experience of talking to people, and whether it’s interviews or surveys, actually understand that there’s a lot of biases in the work if we actually ask people. So, the more we survey and try and understand what people are doing, they’ll self-report, and then they tend to under report things that we actually really want to know about. Or they over report the things that maybe they think they’re doing well. And it’s not actually the case at all. So, our world is one of breaking through the data. And if you compare itself report to any real data, like what people are actually doing, whether it’s how we look for things on Facebook, how we go to Google to get information. We’re even flawed as humans, and we don’t remember everything. So, some of it’s not even that we’re trying to make ourselves look good, we just don’t remember. So, data is critical, because it teaches us what people are doing. It doesn’t necessarily help us understand how to move people forward. And so, we see this wonderful term insight. And that’s the talent, I think, to break through a lot of data, and understand across a lot of information, what’s really important, what stands out, and what help might move more people the fastest. And that’s a bit of a talent. So, we’ve got a lot of data analysts who can give us a lot of information. But then understanding from the data, where to go next, I think still is an area where the human minds always going to be needed to get the understanding of where to go next.

Rhetta: Yeah, that’s really interesting. And something that we work with a lot at RIDL also, it’s like balancing this like self-reported survey data, with like big human movement data to see like, is what the people are saying, is that matching up in these kind of indelible data sources that are maybe a little bit more trustworthy? But then there’s obviously ethical concerns with using these types of data. And so then there, and obviously, survey generated ideas are a bit easier to collect in some instances. So, I’d be interested to hear from you. Do you think there’s any contexts within which it’s inappropriate to try to collect data or to use a data driven approach? Or is it like, okay, across the board? Or how do you choose which type of data you’re going to do use when I guess?

Sharyn: I think, coming out of commercial backgrounds and moving into social science and behaviour change work, there’s a lot of discussion around ethicality, morality in the social change space, that I think sometimes aren’t conversations that are really happening in the commercial world. And if you go out and transact using your bank account, you know, you’ve got your cards and you just swiping everywhere you go. All of that tracks all of that’s used to sell you more products. How ethical is that? Are we having those conversations hard enough and well enough, I would like to think that if we do have true good outcomes that we’re calling for, and not just political will to get a change, that sometimes I think it’s incumbent on us that data is like an asset. And it is already like governments and agencies right across our nation and globally, are custodians of these assets. And keeping them locked away, I think is also an injustice. Because making that data accessible and open, and allowing more agencies to act and operate from it are probably incumbent on us to actually make a better future. Because looking at patterns, getting across agencies, and breaking people out of their silos and stopping the biases that we’re living with, would really help have the conversations we need to be having. Because I today will have a conversation with one agency that’s about obesity. With another agency, it might be about traffic congestion. And then with yet another agency, it’s about abuse or mental health, yet they’re all intersected. We’re not mapping that well enough. We don’t talk it well enough, yet. We operate in this big ecosystem. And we should be actually combining some of these issues. Because if I can get people to be more physically active, so if they naturally start walking to and from work, or catching public transport in between, we’ve reduced traffic congestion, we’ve actually got people more active. And in doing so we’ve got we’ve actually addressed the mental health issues as well, because they’re starting to have daily conversations in transit, that normally they wouldn’t have. And they’re building a social network. So we’re not looking at the bigger picture well enough. And the data and the access that we have allows us to do that. And we should be doing that.

Rhetta: Yeah, that’s so interesting. And I think it’s so important. There’s some new legislation coming about, which potentially could give universities the ability to be this kind of data linkage authority or have this this ability. And I’m not I’m not sure what the appetite in the Australian public is, but it seems like universities might be a really great option for this. Because he said, like commercial, like, is that ethical to be using this data? Or should government have it, that’s maybe not the right place, either, because political parties change, people have different tastes. So maybe this is a great opportunity for us here to have this whole holistic thought like process around data, linking the sources together, we know people don’t exist in little vacuums only entered acting with different points at certain times. It’s we were whole humans, and we need this whole experience. We want people to understand this as a whole, I guess as well. When you find an intervention that works, maybe it’s a highly segmented group or a community. How do you scale that up? So how do you include like, if you’re focusing on the obesity people, or the people that you’re working with in this obesity context, and that works there? And it works within this community? How would you then scale that up to maybe across Queensland or across Australia? Or is that just not something we do, because people are unique and within their communities,

Sharyn: I think there’s political will that has to be built. And that goes back to that really early point around behavioural change, and how it starts to reshape how we operate and what we actually do. So, if you can get it, for example, if you’re working in one local government area, and you get a proof of concept, and then you get the wheel between a couple of government areas to get together, that gets the attention of the state and or the federal level, and scaling up becomes possible. And another approach is not so much to imagine that you’re coming into the world to change it all yourself. And that actually our job, it’s incumbent on us to prove it can be done in a different way. And there’s potentially roll that out through the existing players who are already doing this work, teaching them how building capacity, ensuring they’re empowered to actually take that and do that. And then it’s having the right consequences and the right outcome. When you look at some of our work, and going back to the earlier point on who should own the data, I’m not sure it should be any one source. And that may be more transparency across all of that is actually needed to avoid any power and politics conversation. Because any government could be criticised using it for advantage in a political vote. And likewise, I think any university could be charged with using it for rankings. So, I think for all of us, the better the system gets at ensuring that it’s my data that I give out. And as an individual, I don’t want to be identified. And I think it’s incumbent on all of us to protect identities. And I certainly know through my work with data analysts and people who work with data that they’re very careful about that. That it’s not about sharing an individual’s identity, but it’s about protecting them but using what we know to start to interrogate better, so that instead of having constant conversations around, there’s no money and we can’t it’s like yes, we can, how can we and how are we reallocating resources better to achieve the common goals across players that have come together,

Rhetta: How has the COVID 19 pandemic impacted the way that you work or the way that your clients work with regards to data, we at riddle have noticed that a lot more people are wanting to start doing things with their data and start making smart decisions with maybe less resources. Have you noticed that in your area of social marketing?

Sharyn: I think there’s no one entity person or anything anywhere that has not been touched by COVID-19 lock downs, and all of the issues that have actually come about over the past sort of year or certainly 18 months in other parts of the world, how we actually access data, I think we’ve become a lot more open to online sharing. It’s for sales technologically to improve that in and of itself means more people can actually do it more. And it’s had people asking different questions about different ways of working. So yes, it’s had a huge effect. And

Rhetta: I feel like social marketing is so great for this kind of point in time as well, like you’re really embracing, like the human aspect and testing things out. Does this work? Do people respond to this? Do they want that, and I hope that you guys are being included in a lot of these Queensland Health Initiatives with regards to I’m not sure if you are, but maybe with the vaccine rollout or the economic recovery, and helping us I guess, do this in a way that is inclusive, and I guess forward thinking,

Sharyn: Now I can definitely speak on behalf of our group, we are doing more work in 2021, than we’ve ever been doing before at any point in history. So wherever we’re lucky to have someone work with us in partnership, our role is to walk in and see if we can help create Win Win solutions. And creating it is not us creating it, it’s that we essentially just facilitate the people we’re working with and help them see a solution that works for all of them. Yes,

Rhetta: Excellent. And I guess to finish off, I’ll just ask you one question. If you could have access to any data set and like the Don’t worry about morals, or ethics or anything like that, that would just really help to maybe crack open some insights into maybe one area or just in general, do you have like a dream data set that you guys could get your hands on

Sharyn: all the way? For me, it’s going back to the store scanner, data, bank data, and all of the retail shopping data that I used to have access to when I was working commercially. It actually taught me a lot about how people behave. I didn’t need to go and ask people at that moment in time. Today, I’m not left with that same luxury of data that I used to have. And I would love to have that capacity back again.

Rhetta: Yeah, great answer. Thank you so much.

Sharyn: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

Rhetta: To listen to more episodes of show me the data, head to your favourite podcast provider or visit our website, RIDL.com.au and look for the podcast tab. We hope that by sharing these conversations, about data and evidence-based decision making, we can help to inform a more inclusive, ethical and forward thinking future. Making data matter is what we’re all about. And we’d love to hear why data matters to you. To get in touch. You can tweet us @G_RIDL , send us an email or if you prefer just send us a letter by carrier pigeon. Thank you for listening, and that’s it til next time, take care and stay safe.