Empowering communities through personalised adaptive rewards

Files & media
Aug 17, 2023
In a world grappling with a changing climate and increasing natural disasters, the need for effective community preparedness has never been more critical. Whether it's a bushfire, flood, or heatwave, individual and community behaviours can spell the difference between safety and vulnerability.
In this blog, we delve into the world of adaptive rewards - these are XX and XX - and explore the potential benefits of a targeted universalist, archetype-based approach to creating targeted behaviour change programs.
Maladaptive vs. Adaptive Behaviors
When confronted with a perceived threat, individuals often exhibit behaviours that can be categorised as either adaptive or maladaptive.
Maladaptive Behaviors: These behaviours involve choices that fail to address or mitigate the threat. For instance, denial of the threat's seriousness or reluctance to take any protective measures fall under this category. Maladaptive behaviors often stem from a lack of awareness, misinformation, or the belief that the threat won't affect them directly.
Adaptive Behaviors: In contrast, adaptive behaviors are those that effectively mitigate the threat and contribute to preparedness. This can include actions like evacuation planning, creating defensible space around one's property for a bushfire, and obtaining the necessary tools and knowledge to respond effectively.
Understanding these behaviors is crucial when designing strategies to foster behavior change and enhance community preparedness. So why are humans maladaptive?
Cost vs. benefit
Humans usually weigh up immediate costs and benefits of undertaking a behaviour, leaning towards the avoidance of unpleasant activities with high costs (such as clearing gutters on a weekend). However, this common decision making model is limited as it focuses solely on short term gains (Westcott et al. 2020).
Westcott et al. (2020, p6) highlights how maladaptive behaviours can have short term rewards and long term costs. Similarly, adaptive behaviours can have short term rewards and long term costs.
notion image
Image credit: Table 1 (Westcott et al. 2020, p6)
So how can we design programs that clearly highlight benefits over costs, ultimately making adaptive behaviours more appealing?
Westcott et al. (2020) has made some public health policy suggestions:
  • High fire danger day leave at workplaces 🏢
  • Government or insurance based financial incentives for property preparedness 💰
  • Preparedness programs in schools and workplaces 🏫
  • Recognising best practice through community awards 🏆
The promise of adaptive rewards: A catalyst for change
One innovative way to drive adaptive behaviors is through the use of adaptive rewards. Adaptive rewards are incentives tailored to individuals' behaviours, motivations, and needs. They serve as positive reinforcement for embracing adaptive behaviors, thereby motivating individuals to make safer choices and engage in actions that contribute to their own preparedness and that of their community.
But how do we effectively tailor a behaviour change campaign to a diverse population?
Personalisation matters: Learning from COVID-19 vaccination incentives
Adaptive rewards need to be personalised because individuals are motivated by different factors. A poignant example can be found in the realm of public health. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. government provided monetary incentives to encourage vaccination. However, this approach demonstrated that a one-size-fits-all (universalist policy) incentive might not effectively motivate all individuals. In some cases, the financial incentive dissuaded people who were already inclined to get vaccinated, as they perceived the incentive as a bid to remove their autonomy (amongst other things).
Eriksen and Gill (2010) urge that when it comes to bushfire preparedness “people need to be encouraged to freely decide for themselves…[to] be convinced of the benefits to themselves and their immediate dependent others”.
Archetypes: The key to personalised engagement
To design effective adaptive rewards, it's essential to recognise that individuals within a community exhibit varying behaviors and motivations. This is where archetypes come into play. Whilst a plethora of archetype research exists, we utilised Strahan et al.’s (2018) self-evacuation archetype framework to tailor our bushfire preparedness campaigns to all 7 population groups.
These archetypes categorise individuals based on their responses to threats, providing insights into their unique beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors in the face of disaster.
  1. Threat Deniers: Believe their safety isn't threatened by bushfires, even dismissing media coverage.
  1. Responsibility Deniers: Rely on others for safety, assuming emergency services will handle evacuation.
  1. Dependent Evacuators: Rely heavily on emergency services for evacuation decision-making, lacking confidence in their own bushfire and evacuation knowledge.
  1. Considered Evacuators: Understand bushfire threat, make moderate preparations, and commit to evacuating.
  1. Community Guided: Seek guidance from community sources, believe others are responsible for their safety.
  1. Worried Waverers: Anxious about threat, prepare extensively, rely on media and community information. Have little experience remaining and protecting their property.
  1. Experienced Independents: Possess extensive knowledge, self-reliant, often remain to protect property.
What is targeted universalism?
Powell, Ake and Menendian (2019) argue that targeted universalism policy design takes the most effective parts from targeted and universal strategies to ensure the greatest potential benefit and impact for equity. In the context of community bushfire preparedness programs, this may look like the removal of financial barriers for marginalised groups (such as single parents, disabled and indigneous peoples) to prepare (alongside universal education programs).
The Archetype-Based Approach: Targeted universalism in action
Imagine a community where each each archetype receives universal bushfire education alongside personalised adaptive rewards that resonate with their unique characteristics and motivations.
Here are some targeted archetype based examples:
  • Dependent Evacuators: Providing evacuation incentives like transport vouchers to ease their reliance on emergency services.
  • Worried Waverers: Advanced training programs, mentoring or equipment discounts to further empower their bushfire defense skills.
This could coincide with the universalist example below:
  • Street parties facilitated by local fire brigades for Theat Deniers, Responsibility Deniers, Dependent Evacuators, Considered Evacuators and Experienced Independents. As they do not believe that neighbours are knowledgeable, well informed or capable of providing accurate information (Strahan et al. 2018) to socialise and informally share bushfire knowledge with each other.
A Resilient Future Through Personalised Preparedness
By combining the power of self-evacuation archetypes and adaptive rewards, a targeted universalist approach could possibly create a more inclusive and effective way to drive behavior change.
This approach recognises the diversity of motivations and behaviours within a community and tailors strategies to address their unique needs. As individuals are empowered to take ownership of their preparedness journey, the collective resilience of the community grows stronger.

What's next?

Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date about what ClimateThrive is up to.