If you are looking to influence IT decision-making on campus — think everything from cloud adoption to employing better network security practices — leaning on your audience’s behavior norms can make a big difference in project outcomes.
Dr. Katherine Milkman, an associate professor of operations, information and decisions at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert in behavioral economics, makes the case for choice architecture, using decision tactics that permeate our day-to-day lives in a relatively unnoticed fashion.
“Every time you make a decision, the environment is somehow shaping our choices,” says Milkman, speaking Thursday at the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference. Whether it’s our physical environment or a virtual one, choice architecture is at play, and often “influences our decisions in predictable ways.”
The cafeteria, where people often grab a tray and then consider the line, is an example, she says. “Something had to come first, something had to come last. You are being influenced by the choice architecture,” she said. Maybe a transit system needs to encourage more people to use stairs instead of the escalator, or a highway department needs to encourage more people to slow down on a difficult curve in a highway. “Choice architecture really matters,” Milkman adds.
So how can you employ good choice architecture? Milkman offers six principles to influencing decision-making.
1. Be Mindful of Default Options
In project management, how often do we consider default options and how they impact overall success? Milkman uses organ donation rates in Europe to show how a simple opt-out setting instead of asking people if they want to be organ donors has a significant impact on the number of donors.
Using an opt-out setting, “it feels as if you are being asked to give something up,” which people hate, she says. It also capitalizes on people’s inertia: “People are a little lazy.”
2. Prompt Users to Plan IT Decisions
It’s a simple trick, but useful. You can rely on people’s desire to keep their commitments (in IT’s case, maybe it’s regularly-changing passwords) by asking a quick series of questions.
For example, she says, “If I want you to go to the gym, I’ll ask questions like ‘When do you plan to go to the gym? Where do you plan to go to the gym? How do you plan to get there?’ and I would be done. By asking the questions I am increasing the likelihood you’ll follow through.”
3. Leverage Social Norms for Better Engagement
Think of it as a herd mentality — Milkman says you can take advantage of human behavior simply by encouraging some that others will follow. Using one of her own experiments as an example, Milkman sometimes asks some students through private communication, but not all, to cheer for someone at a lecture. The students not told to cheer witness the others and, as expected, follow along.
“It’s really uncomfortable to not participate when everyone else is,” Milkman says.
4. Create Accountability for IT Best Practices
When asking people to commit to a new process or goal, often times you can get a higher level of participation by simply asking for accountability.
“Observable accountability has stronger impact,” she says, noting people are more likely to respond to certain triggers.
For example, simply telling people it’s their duty, or they are being studied, or they are being compared to their peers (in her example, neighbors and their propensity to vote in a local election) is enough to spur people to action.
5. Capitalize on Fresh Perspectives
Do you make New Year’s resolutions? You are not alone. Milkman says “fresh starts,” which can be as simple as the first day of the week, someone’s birthday, the new semester and even New Year’s Day are great opportunities to benefit from the natural human desire to do better moving forward.
6. Let Users Create an Adoption Timeline
Pre-commitment, such as giving people the ability to create a timeframe to make a transition, allows them to feel as if they are in more control of making the decision you desire. Loss framing instills fear by drawing on the negative consequences for not taking action.
Departments that fiercely protect their data may feel like they’ve lost control when your business moves to a cloud environment. You can positively tout the move by saying that it will improve access for those who move and apply loss framing by saying it will leave few available options for those who don’t.
“People find giving something up about twice as painful,” Milkman says. “It’s an opportunity to be persuasive.”
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