Monday 13 September 2010

Networks & Nudging (cross posted to Mud in my eyes)

Sometimes two opposites collide.

I'm a fat mountain biker and a multi media communications officer. This post is about both these things because, increasingly, those two things are becoming interestingly intertwined as the reason I am fat and still mountain bike become something of a conundrum to be unravelled for central government.

It's nothing to do with me. It's really not. Except that when people start talking about things I have personal experience of, these days I get frustrated enough to want to set the record straight.

Paul Ormerod has written a 'pamphlet', which appears to actually be a report for the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Mannufacturers and Commerce) called N-Squared. It tackles the government on it's recent assertion that nudging is the way to get people to change behaviours. I feel eligible to comment on this as, when I booked a hotel last night, the first thing I checked was whether it had a gym so I could get to ride a bike at least once in the 3 days I was away from my 'real' one. That, right there, is behaviour change for me.

Nudge comes from something called 'behavioural economics'. Don't ask. Instead, read this, which is the thrust of the matter, for me:
This essay argues that to be effective, the policy framework
for the twenty-first century must not only draw on the new
insights that behavioural economics gives us, but also needs to
be underpinned by an understanding between this and how
networks influence our choices and how these change over
time. Indeed, the impact of networks is potentially considerably greater than that of ‘nudge’. This makes creating good policy harder while offering huge potential for change.
My personal experience is that both are true. Except not in the way that these people seem to think. It's the combination of both, where one feeds the other that the thrust of the change is born.
Out there on the web are thousands of communities and they reside in very many places. Sometimes there is crossover. To understand how the web works is to understand how it motivates and supports and this is where the lack of research and understanding is becoming clear in central government and those who swim around it.

I use a forum called Singletrackworld. It collects a lot of like minded mountain bikers into one place. Rides are organised, old kit is sold, random arguments about politics and music are had, but there is very much a sense of community with the same people posting on a day to day basis and then a further circle of people commenting a few times a week on posts that particularly interest them. It's a group like any other, with the interactive dynamics that the Tavistock Institue so well defined, just like any other.

Some of those people are on Twitter. But the thing which Twitter does best is to connect people of people. So, some people from Singletrack are on Twitter. But the friends of the people on Singletrack are not on Singletrack but are on Twitter. And so boyfriends, girlfriends, riding partners, riding groups, sons, daughters, skills guides, DJ's, journalists and editors all collide in one loosely defined group on Twitter. They're in my mtbfabulousness list if you're interested.

They're the people who keep me on the straight and narrow. Actually, let me rephrase that. They're the people who kept me on the straight and narrow at the start, when I needed them. And I did need them. I was fat and horrenously unfit and I'd not ridden a bike in a long time. I didn't know I needed them, it wasn't a conscious decision, it was just that all I talk about for a good portion of the day when not at work is mountain biking and so this amorphous mass of lovely people slowly infiltrated my world. Some found me cos of this blog, Mud in my eyes. Some from seeing their friends chat to me. Some from the odd time here or there where they got added into a mass conversation about forks or flat pedals. Some because ideas of a ride out were being muted and some because of the girly biker community.

Twitter is a collision, crossing over point and shaper of new communities and networks. As a result, you find people who are also trying to keep fit and earn cake. As a result, you find other people who talk really quite a lot about mountain biking. As a result, when you don't want to leave the comfort of your sofa, you are constantly reminded of the benefits of doing so as other peoples ride reports flash up your screen. It's a great motivator. As a result, when you're feeling terrible, you can always have a quick moan and get picked up again. As a result, slowly but surely, going out for a ride becomes routine instead of a novelty and slowly but surely, your fitness improves and your world view and behaviour changes.

This is the importance of being inside something to comment on it. This is perhaps the responsibility of being inside something to be in a position to comment on it. If this works for me, would it work for others? I don't know. It seems people are writing successful books on half the story, but misunderstanding the other half because they don't use the mediums of which they speak. N-Squared hits the nail, right on the head.

In my world, my Twitter 'friends' are the people who have kept me going, kept me riding, kept me determined to get better at this ludicrous sport. They've advised, sympathised, calmed and encouraged, cheered and motivated and you know, without them I'm not sure I'd have ridden the route I rode yesterday.

Never underestimate the value of knowing others can. Never underestimate the power of following others. But most of all, understand that the key to behaviour change is a weird mix of technology, digital and sociology and psychology these days and more research badly needs to be done to get to the root of what works and is efficient, and what doesn't and is not.

1 comment:

  1. If you keep fit there will be cake. Delicious and moist.

    The cake is a lie.
    The cake is a lie.
    The cake is a lie.


    Portal aside, some good points there.