The 5 “W’s” of communication as a catalyst for positive change in society


Unveiling the power of communication in the age of collective responsibility

What and why it's important

At the crossroads of global challenges we face, communication emerges not just as a bridge but as a catalyst that promotes behavioural change in individuals and groups. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) remind us of the urgency to act, to join forces, to be collectively responsible. But if our actions were already aligned with human well-being and planet protection, there would be no need for such goals. It is in this context that effective communication reveals itself as an essential tool.

Where we apply it

Behavioural changes are hindered by both conscious and unconscious influences. From social norms and attitudes to habits and biases, communication has the power to dismantle these barriers. It can educate, evoke emotions, and set role models, as long as it is handled ethically and transparently.


Who developed the theory

Robert Cialdini, a pioneer in the field of persuasion psychology, provides us with a framework to understand how social norms affect our decisions. It’s not just about seeking approval; it’s about how we act based on how we want to be perceived.

How it's applied

  • Reciprocity: People tend to return favours. In the realm of international cooperation, for example, a country receiving aid during a crisis is more likely to support its benefactor in international forums.
  • Scarcity: Limited becomes desirable. Campaigns highlighting the urgency to act against climate change, showcasing the planet’s limited resources, can drive sustainable actions.
  • Authority: We respect experts. A report on gender equality will have more impact if backed by reputable organisations.
  • Consistency: We aim to be consistent in our actions and statements. If a company publicly commits to sustainability, it’s more likely to follow eco-friendly practices to maintain its image.
  • Likability: We lean towards people or causes that we find appealing. Awareness campaigns using charismatic ambassadors can garner more attention and support.
  • Social Proof: We follow the crowd. If a community adopts sustainable practices, new members are likely to do the same.
  • Unity: Identification with a group can be a strong motivator. Campaigns appealing to national or community identity can have a significant impact.

When we identify and develop the intervention

Understanding human behaviour is a complex task that has occupied scholars, psychologists, and sociologists for decades. It’s not an exact science, but one that has been refining its methods and approaches over time. One of the most robust frameworks in this area is developed by BehaviourWorks Australia, which breaks down this intricate process into three essential phases:

1.Exploration: Diagnosing the scenario

The first phase, exploration, is where an exhaustive diagnosis of the problem and the context in which it manifests is made. This involves a review of existing literature, interviews with experts, and often, on-the-ground assessment. The aim is to understand the magnitude of the problem, identify the stakeholders involved, and outline the dynamics that perpetuate it. It’s like a doctor running tests and analyses before issuing a diagnosis; we need to understand the problem in all its complexity before proposing solutions.

2.Immersion: Diving into complexity

The immersion phase takes this understanding a step further. Here, qualitative and quantitative data are collected to understand the influences that hinder or facilitate certain behaviours. This could involve surveys, focus groups, or even direct observation. The idea is to immerse oneself in the world of the behaviour one wishes to change to understand not just what is happening, but why it is happening. It’s an exercise in empathy and analysis aimed at uncovering the levers that can move the needle in the desired direction.

3.Implementation: From theory to action

Finally, we arrive at the implementation phase. This is where all the accumulated information and understanding are translated into a concrete intervention. But it doesn’t end there; it’s also crucial to monitor and evaluate the impact of this intervention. This can be done through predefined metrics, feedback from participants, and post-implementation data analysis. The aim is to learn not just if the intervention worked, but how and why it worked, to fine-tune future initiatives.

These three phases are not watertight compartments but rather stages in a continuous cycle of learning and adaptation. With each turn of this cycle, we come one step closer to understanding how to effectively and enduringly change behaviours. But what happens when time is of the essence, and we need a more structured approach to drive change? This is where two frameworks that have proven effective in various circumstances come into play: INSPIRE and EAST.

INSPIRE: An acronym that sparks action


The INSPIRE framework, an acronym that unfolds a range of strategies, is a creation by the BehaviourWorks team. This framework is not just theory; it’s a practical guide to structuring communication in a way that catalyses behavioural changes ethically and effectively. Let’s see how each component of INSPIRE can be a driver of change:

  • Implementation Intentions: General goals like “Let’s improve gender equality” are not enough. What we need are concrete plans, such as “We will organise monthly workshops to empower women in collaboration with local organisations.” These specific intentions are not only more actionable but are also more likely to make a real impact.
  • Norms: Social norms, those unwritten rules that guide our behaviour, can be both a barrier and a facilitator for change. If a community majority recycles, newcomers are likely to follow suit. The key is to leverage these norms as levers for change.
  • Salience: Visibility matters. A behaviour or action that stands out is more likely to be adopted. Think of “eco-friendly” labels in supermarkets; they are a constant reminder for the consumer to make more sustainable choices.
  • Procedural Justice: Fairness in the process increases the adoption of behaviours. If people feel their voice counts in a decision-making process, they are more likely to back the proposed measures. Justice is not just an ideal; it’s an effective strategy for change.
  • Incentives: Incentives can be the spark that ignites action. Imagine a project offering farming tools to farmers who attend sustainability workshops. This tangible incentive not only educates but motivates the application of new practices.
  • Reputation and Credibility: Trust is a currency earned over time and easily spent. An organisation with a solid reputation will carry more weight in promoting changes. Credibility is an invaluable asset that can either accelerate or halt any intervention.
  • Ease: Finally, if we want people to adopt new behaviour, we need to make it easy for them. This could mean building bike lanes if we want to promote urban cycling or providing accessible educational resources to encourage lifelong learning.

EAST: Simplifying the complexity of behaviour change

If INSPIRE is a detailed roadmap for behaviour change, EAST is its streamlined, yet no less effective, version. Also developed by BehaviourWorks Australia, this framework focuses on four pillars that can make behaviour change more accessible and, therefore, more likely. Let’s take a look:

  • Easy: Simplicity is key. If we want people to adopt new behaviour, we need to remove as many barriers as possible. This could mean simplifying registration forms for a community activity or providing clear and easy-to-follow instructions for recycling. The easier the action, the more likely people are to carry it out.
  • Attractive: Attractiveness is not just a matter of aesthetics; it’s also about how an option is presented. Thoughtful design, clear communication, and tangible rewards can make an option more appealing and, therefore, more likely to be chosen. For instance, a recycling campaign that uses bright colours and positive messaging will be more attractive than one that employs technical and dull language.
  • Social: We are social creatures by nature. Leveraging the power of the group can be an effective way to influence individual behaviour. This could manifest in mentorship programmes, where desired behaviours are modelled by respected individuals, or in social media campaigns that use real testimonials to inspire action.
  • Timely: Timing matters. Interventions are most effective when carried out at times when people are more open to change. This could be right after a significant event, like a natural disaster, or during personal transition periods, like the start of a new year. The right timing can be the difference between a successful and a failed intervention.


Both frameworks offer a solid structure for designing and implementing effective communication strategies that can achieve significant behaviour changes.


In the era of collective responsibility, effective communication is more crucial than ever. It’s not just a tool but a transformative force that, when used ethically and precisely, can change the course of our lives and, ultimately, the world we live in.

Would you like to be a real change agent by transforming communication in your organisation? Schedule a video call now or contact me via WhatsApp. Together, we will outline a communication strategy that not only illustrates but also inspires and catalyses significant changes.

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