Diagram showing frictionLast weekend I was watching my kids play in a volleyball tournament. The local high school girls team was operating a canteen to raise money. I bought a bowl of chilli to support their fundraising efforts. After eating, I wanted to responsibly dispose of the paper bowl in the compost bin, recycle my empty water bottle and put the plastic spoon in the garbage. I soon realized that wouldn’t be easy due to what I call “barrier friction.”

The waste containers were scattered about the building. There was little signage to show if a container was for recycling, composting or garbage. As a result, there were significant barriers to proper waste sorting.

When fostering behaviour change, our #1 priority should be to remove barriers and the friction they produce. It is where we get the most bang for our buck.

Barriers are Friction

reducing friction with a wheeled dollyFaced with the task of moving several heavy boxes, what would you do? If there is one handy, you would use a dolly, so you would not have to push the boxes, or lift and carry the heavy load making several trips. The wheels provided by the dolly reduce the friction associated with moving the boxes. This makes the task much easier.

Just as friction makes it difficult to move the boxes, friction from barriers makes it difficult to move someone from one behaviour to another. The friction often cannot be overcome by any amount of signage, incentives or other encouragement. When the barrier and associated friction is removed, the task becomes convenient. It is then more likely to be completed.

5 Examples of Reducing Friction

Here are 5 examples of steps taken to cut common barrier friction and support preferred behaviour:

  • Adequate signage at waste sorting stations to increase recycling
  • Boot cleaning stations at trailheads (http://www NULL.playcleango NULL.org/resources/signage) to reduce the spread of invasive species
  • Pet waste stations (https://www NULL.propetdistributors NULL.com/product/pet-station-poly/) that offer bags and a disposal container in parks
  • Litter containers in public places
  • Mobile blood donor clinics (https://blood NULL.ca/en/donate?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIh-HArszm1wIVDdlkCh3-4Af7EAAYASAAEgKV4PD_BwE) to increase donations

Similarly, friction is also an issue for people selling retail products and services.  A lot of work is being done to increase sales by reducing purchasing barriers. (http://www NULL.mytotalretail NULL.com/article/friction-free-fiascos-breaking-barriers-opening-floodgates/) We can learn from those efforts. Think of those Amazon dash buttons that provide one click purchasing (https://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/ddb/learn-more). They remove the need to click more buttons on your phone to place an order for things like detergent. That also makes it much more convenient than driving to a local store to buy detergent. That is something Amazon wants to prevent.

Commitment and Prompts

Small dog steps If you remove the friction caused by barriers, other behaviour change tools can be much more effective. Commitments, prompts, incentives and social norms result in better adoption when the task is convenient.

Think of trying to get a dog to jump onto a table. If he thinks it is too high, it will take a lot of treats to motivate him to try to jump up. Provide him with a step to climb on to make it easier, and one treat will get him there. Because the barrier and associated friction have been removed, much less motivation is required.

Research Can’t be Skipped

So how do you find out what the barriers are? Do your research. Ask your target audience through surveys and focus groups. And do a literature review to find out if someone else has already undertaken similar research. Never assume you know what the barriers are.

In Conclusion

Always remember, to get people to adopt a new behaviour, it must be convenient. A given amount of effort will pay more dividends if it is applied to removing barriers than being applied to motivators.

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