The CAN approach to behaviour change
This is a nice little mnemonic to emerge from work conducted by behavioural economists from Cornell University for the Department of Health in New York State. They were looking at how to get children to eat more healthily at school. In thinking about how to influence children’s decisions about what to eat, they came up with what they have called the CAN approach. It stands for convenient, attractive and normative.
Convenient means just that – making it easy to do something. Making sure that people know exactly what is required of them and that the action is made as easy for them as possible. That may involve breaking the goal down into a series of smaller steps. Or it may involve providing resources or tools of some sort. Either way, it is about making sure that performing the desired behaviour is as effortless as possible.
Attractive means making sure the desired behaviour is more attractive relative to whatever alternatives exist. You don’t have to make the behaviour amazingly attractive; just more attractive than other potential behaviours in the situation. This is where intrinsic motivation and incentives come into play.
Finally, normative means ensuring that performing the desired behavioural is seen as expected, usual, and the normal thing to do. What everyone should and does do. This means leaders role-modelling, publically recognising people who do it well, and advertising the fact that most people do do the desired behaviour.
It is, then, a very simple model. It picks up on aspects of the M, A and S of our model – missing out on Psychological Capital. As such, for us it is incomplete. But it is nonetheless a neat little mnemonic that you can use to help others understand some of the basics required to help people change behaviour.