Bringing behaviour change techniques into practice: Making use of available tools

By Marta Moreira Marques, NOVA University of Lisbon, Portugal

Behaviour change techniques are the building blocks of behavior change interventions. Whether you are trying to help someone increase their physical activity, stop smoking or better adhere to a medication regimen, behavior change techniques are the tools you have at your disposal. Common behavior change techniques include things like goal-setting, self-monitoring, providing information about a behaviour and managing emotions.

Many professionals have likely used a variety of these behavior change techniques in practice, without having labeled them as such. However, to be maximally effective in helping clients or patients change their behavior, behavior change techniques need to be applied systematically and rationally (see for example an earlier post in this blog “How to set goals that work“). This presents two challenging questions for busy practitioners:

  • How can I find out what behavior change techniques are available for me to use?
  • Which behavior change techniques are most appropriate for my clients and how can I apply them in practice?

This post provides an overview of some free and accessible tools that can help practitioners address these questions and feel more confident in delivering behavior change interventions in practice.

Part 1. Identifying available behaviour change techniques: Classification systems

Because there is a high number of behaviour change techniques to choose from, there has been an effort from behavioural scientists in developing classification systems of these techniques.

Probably the most comprehensively and widely used classification is the Behaviour Change Techniques Taxonomy v1 developed by researchers from the Centre for Behaviour Change. This taxonomy contains 93 unique techniques, identified with a label, definition, and practical examples. Because this taxonomy has been used extensively, it is now relatively easy to find synthesis of the most frequently used and the most effective techniques for various health behaviours, contexts, and populations. This taxonomy is being translated to other languages to facilitate its use by professionals around the globe (e.g., Portuguese version). The Centre for Behaviour Change has an online database of interventions using the taxonomy, online training, a smartphone app and other important resources to obtain further information.

In addition, there are other classifications systems that can be helpful depending on the goal of the intervention. If the main purpose is to support people in selecting appropriate self-directed techniques, for example in the context of self-management of a chronic condition, you can consult a compendium of 123 techniques that comes with a toolkit describing the techniques and ways to use them in a lay language.

Part 2. Implementing behaviour change techniques in practice: Competences Frameworks and Training

One question that can pop-up from reading the first section of this blog is “OK, now I know how to access these tools to identify which techniques are available, but how do I know which ones should be used and how do I learn how to implement them?”. In fact, delivering behaviour change support and implementing behaviour change techniques requires proficiency, in the same way knowledge and practice are needed for recommending and implementing any other type of therapeutic tool.

Identification of the competences needed to use various sets of behaviour change techniques can be found in competences frameworks.  In the European context, a comprehensive interprofessional competency framework was developed for health and other professionals to support behaviour change and self-management of chronic diseases. This framework provides a core set of competencies that are needed for behaviour change support and an identification of the most useful techniques to change behaviours such as diet, physical activity, and medication adherence.

As part of this initiative (Train4Health EU project), other important resources were created:

  • A Massive Online Open Course to provide training for health and other professionals and students on how to provide behaviour change support (including the use of behaviour change techniques) for self-management of chronic conditions;
  • A web application offers a safe environment for training behaviour change support, in which users play the role of a health or another professional and interact with 2D virtual humans, playing the role of persons with chronic disease;
  • An open-access book including examples and guidance to the implementation of these techniques.

Practical Recommendations:

  1. Take time to learn about behaviour change techniques: Mastering the use of behaviour change techniques, including which techniques should be used in a range of situations, can have an enormous impact in easing and boosting the success of behaviour change support even in brief encounters with clients. Try it out at your own pace.
  1. Identify opportunities for training on how to use behaviour change techniques: The resources provided here can help you in getting started, but it doesn’t end there. Either it is through organising in-house training, or by reaching out to professional associations, it will equip you with the skills to use behaviour change techniques in practice. In some countries, there are already training and other resources available from professional and academic institutions. You can also reach out to the European Health Psychology Society National Delegates if you want to get more information about training opportunities available in your country.

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