Behaviour change: tackling the 25% of the UK's population that are inactive

Women playing netball

Behaviour change is the key to and encouraging long term participation in physical activity and reducing the 25% of the UK’s population that is inactive. In preparation for the CIMSPA and Quest NBS Conference 2020, and our keynote session, delivered by behaviour change, influence and persuasion expert David Thomson, we introduce the value of understanding behaviour change and the impact it can have on your personal and organisational mission – whether it be applied to encouraging physical activity or for sales, marketing or leadership.

Physical inactivity: the biggest public health problem of the 21st century

A paper published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, by Professor Steven Blair, states physical inactivity: “is one of the most important public health problems of the 21st century and may even be the most important”. Its impact is far reaching and affects aspects of national productivity, public health and the economy:
  • On average those who performed physical activity at a vigorous intensity level at least three times a week resulted in a taking less sick day at work and being more productive
  • Physical inactivity is responsible for one in six UK deaths and contributes to many long term illnesses
  • It is estimated that physical inactivity costs the UK £7.4 billion annually (including £0.9 billion to the NHS alone)

Although these statistics help to quantify the issues of physical inactivity it is not until we start to compare the time we spend on other leisurely pursuits that the challenge we face is really highlighted. For example, the average adult in the UK watches 2.8 hours of TV on a weekday, and more at weekends, which is 16 times the time spent on health-giving physical activity. Putting into context these statistics brings home the urgency and responsibility our sector has to help the nation experience a better quality of life.

These statistics also highlights the struggle we face if we continue to only use previous methods to target and motivate the inactive into action. The biggest challenge for organisations, businesses and individuals, is understanding how to influence meaningful and sustainable change in the behaviour of the inactive. An increase in physical activity participation promises to benefit not just our nations headline figures but the front-line workforce, the personal trainers, gym managers, sport development officers, grassroot club managers, and the wider workforce. An increase of participants promises to increase memberships that would benefit from new participants.

A strategy for success

Thankfully we are not alone, and effective methods to increase participation have been tried, tested, and proven. However, we are able to tap into the lessons of those more resource and experience than we may hold than ourselves. No other organisation has been more (financially) committed to reducing inactivity in the past fifteen years as the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Since 2005, with Lord Coe’s successful application to host the 2012 Olympics in London, DCMS has been trying to inspire the UK into regularly participating in physical activity.

Although the success of the Olympics, in the context of increasing physical activity, has been strongly debated the Games ultimately (potentially due to reduced funding) failed to encourage a sustainable increase in physical activity. The disconnect between major sporting events and increasing physical activity is not limited to just the Olympics but major sporting events in general – as documented in multiple research papers including one by UK Sport.

For business, organisations and individuals, instead of trying to ‘inspirational’ behaviour change, the most successful approach to changing behaviour has been through ‘aspirational’ behaviour change. Arguably the best, and most powerful, marketing campaigns to date has been Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ campaign (funded by The National Lottery) and used aspirational behaviour change to achieve success.

Sparked by the staggering gender gap between men and woman participating in sport regularly the ‘This Girl Can’ was designed to identify and overcome the barriers impacting women exercising. The campaign, now close to four years old and in its third phase, ‘Fit Got Real’, has received international appraise and has inspired over 3 million women in the UK to be more active since launching in 2015.

How to effectively encourage behaviour change?

The success of ‘This Girl Can’ can be attributed to its fresh approach and understanding of ‘real’ women and the barriers impacting their desire or ability to be physically active.

Beginning with nine months of extensive research, it was discovered that many women were fearful of being judged by others whilst participating in physical activity. The campaign focused on overcoming judgement in three subdivision: appearance, ability and priorities. Working to change this perception, the campaign used ‘street casting’ of women exercising, emotive language and selected channels to creating meaningful engagement and resonate with the target audience. The campaign aimed to erase the previous conceptions of what a women who exercised must be and aimed to attract women of all abilities, shapes and sizes, and overcome their reservations about exercising.

Understanding that behaviour change is not always immediate and often requires a transitioning process. Sports England created a behaviour change model based upon Prochaska and DiClemente’s Trans theoretical Model (2005) to assist the development of the campaign. The model features five key stages in changing behaviour that Sport England’s programmes include. The model transitions from pre-contemplation through to maintenance.

In one year, the ‘This Girl Can’ began altering perception of physical activity with its content viewed 37 million times on Facebook and YouTube, tweeted about 660,000 times and interacted with 540,000 across the campaign’s social media community. The biggest impact of the campaign was the ‘2.8 million 14 - 40-year-old women say they have done some or more activity as a result of [this] campaign’. The impact of the campaign was monumental, and it has been praised for its pioneering ability to deliver real participation in physical activity.

How can you learn and apply the power of influence, persuasion and behaviour change?

There are multiple approaches to encouraging behaviour change, but the most effective are based upon researched scientific and academic models. These methods can be adapted from Sport England’s model for ‘This Girl Can’ or from the basis of Dr Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence.

Join us at the CIMSPA and Quest NBS Conference 2020 as we introduce behaviour change expert David Thomson to help you understand and hone your own skills and ability to influence, persuade and encourage behaviour change.


CIMSPA and Quest NBS conference 2020

David's keynote sessions:

Unlocking the potential of our sector

David Thomson, Behavioural change advocate

As a sector, we are constantly pursuing real participation growth. This means tackling the 25% of the UK’s population who are “pre-contemplative” about physical activity and encouraging them to change their behaviour and attitudes. To help us in this mission, CIMSPA and Quest NBS are pleased to introduce David Thomson - behaviour change expert.

David is on a personal mission to create a global paradigm shift in the way persuasion and influence is taught. He skillfully weaves personal, often humorous, stories into his presentations, which enthuse participants and motivate individuals to apply his new and influential methods in marketing, leadership, and sales.

David will bring together his extensive years of learning and expertise to deliver a powerful and practical presentation that will explore how to “turn the key” and apply his new and compelling methods personally, professionally and to your organisation.

Content streams:

CIMSPA will host other sessions exploring: Business of fitness, Education, Leadership and Management.

Quest NBS will host sessions exploring: Engagement, Operations, Customer Services and Partnerships.

When and where?

All of this will be taking place at Pride Park Stadium, Derby on 27 February 2020

Find out more

Incorporated by Royal Charter Charity registration number 1144545

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