From habits to principles

“For the hard to become habit, we need social reinforcement, for the habit to become easy, we need to shape our habitats accordingly, places to practice and people to teach us or work with, and for the easy to become beautiful, we need social rewards, such that the new found habit is socially endorsed.”

This quote from the RSA’s Transforming Behaviour Change is timely as we enter a new year. At the time, the RSA’s Social Brain Centre Six Working Ideas were

  • We cannot change ourselves without changing each other
  • Complexity is more often the solution than the problem
  • It is better to be reasonable than rational
  • Paying attention is good for you
  • If we want new habits, we should work with our habitats
  • The brain is a stimulant

How could we take these working ideas and turn them into principles for the design of public services?


  1. Empathy

You put yourself in other people’s shoes to see things from their perspective. Services and projects start from understanding others before developing ideas

Methods that can help this include Day in the Life, Observe your Neighbourhood

2. Curiosity

You’re curious about how people from other walks of life are working

Services and projects are designed with different people using different methods which may take time to get to grips with

Methods that can help this include Rubiks in Reverse and Audiences

3. Collaboration

You like to see how you can work with others to create something better than you could alone.

Services and projects will be developed with the resources, needs and personal constraints of each collaborator and the impact will be distributed

Methods that can help this include Partnership Mapping

4. Openness

You help people make sense of your lessons, while making sense of their insights

Your actions and insights may be challenged, but be improved through peer review

5. Conviviality

You make sure that every experience you create makes people feel at home, whether that’s a website or a workshop

The activities and experiences you create may require a better understanding of what makes different people feel at home, but may mean they commit more to them

Methods that can help this include Design Principles

6. Creativity

You love discovering and experimenting with new ways of using digital

More diverse ways of doing and solving problems may require a smarter selection of ideas to test trust, but will open up to approaches that could solve problems that you found difficult to solve before

Methods that can help this include Rubiks in Reverse

7. Passion

You enjoy getting people excited about the opportunities technology can bring to helping people

Activities may need more time to get people excited in the idea beofre it’s developed but is more likely to result in people wanting to get involved

8. Challenge

You’re comfortable with challenging people about how digital could be used to improve people’s lives and tackling society’s big challenges

Projects and relationships may be disrupted because of your criticism, but can help clarify the “elephants in the room”

Head of Strategy (Communities) @camdencouncil #localgov Director @euroalter Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese