Dr. Sea Rotmann
Dr. Sea Rotmann, guest writer

I’m Dr Sea Rotmann and I run an international research project on behaviour change for the International Energy Agency’s Demand Side Management Programme. I was lucky enough to have been invited by the amazing Kady Cowan and her team of Behaviour Changers and Sustainability Experts to the University Health Network in Toronto late May.

We had two amazing days together – on Day 1, we had a ‘Behaviour Changer 101′ conference, where I presented our Task 24. This included talking about the 3 years’ worth of results analysing case studies (best, good and not-so-great practice) from around the world and the behavioural models of understanding they were based on and hearing of some of the great examples of behaviour change best practice in Canada, both in the health, and in the transport sector.

It was an amazing day and really well-received. My favourite quote came from the representative of the Ministry of Energy who put his hand up at the end of my talk and said “You’ve just blown my mind! I thought I was going to hear about stickers and labels and instead I realised behaviour change is about so much more!” I was truly humbled and impressed with not only the caliber of people who came to the conference, but the many interested and intelligent questions they asked, and the kindness of their feedback.

The next day was a little more difficult for me. Kady brought together her ‘Behaviour Changers’ from the hospital domain from several different sectors – Government (‘the Decisionmaker’), Industry (‘the Provider’), Research (‘the Expert’), the Third Sector (‘the Conscience’), Middle Actors (‘the Intermediary’) and ‘Other Behaviour Changers’ who were epidemiologists. I had told her that they were going to be ‘guinea pigs’ for my brand new Behaviour Changer Framework, and were they ever! These wonderful people were the world-first experts exposed to our new framework of how we could bring very disparate sectors together. We used a Collective Impact Approach to find solutions that address whole-system problems.

Day 2 Group
Day 2 Group: (L-R) Adeline Cohen, Beth Savan, Kady Cowan, Mike Kurz, Linda Varangu, Dave Bligh, Vicki Gagnon, Sea Rotmann, Mark Cammisuli, Elisabeth Perlikowski, behind the camera: Lisa Vanlint

The day went extremely well, although we did end up learning a lot, including how the process could be ultimately improved. I am extremely grateful that I had the chance to work with such excellent folks on such a difficult and complex problem and their openness, enthusiasm and kindness really knew no bounds. I have since trialed the improved process (thanks to their constructive critique) in Sweden and among 50 behaviour change experts from around the world at the eceee Summer Study in France. It has been really well received and worked much better thanks to the input of my new Canadian friends.

One thing Kady told me before I came to visit was that ‘Canadians are really nice people’. I can only wholeheartedly support that statement and I am extremely happy that it was Canadians who were the first to hear about our new work. Now we just need to get the official sign-off to get Canada to join our Task and we can continue these great efforts together over the next 3 years.

There are some universal truths in behaviour change:

  • there is no silver bullet;
  • all models are wrong but some of them are useful!
  • we can’t affect whole-system change on our own, or by being stuck in our respective silos;
  • we need an overarching language that unites us, and that language is storytelling;
  • it’s all about the people!

I look forward to hearing more about the work of the UHN sustainability team and to continue exploring how we can help these Behaviour Changers change peoples’ behaviour.