Diving Deep…

How to Use the Theory of Planned Behaviour to Create more Efficient Solutions

Tuesday 29-05-2018

When designing for behaviour change it is important to accurately target the real reason why desired behaviour is not taking place. Too often, wonderful solutions are developed that fail to adequately address the real problem and therefore fall flat. Icek Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behaviour is a valuable tool in analysing the underlying cause of a behavioural problem. By looking at attitude, subjective norm and control, it becomes easier to predict the behavioural intention that will actually lead to changed behaviour.
What’s the theory?
The Theory of Planned behaviour (TPB) looks at how beliefs about behaviour influence the intention to perform behaviour. The first factor is the attitude towards the behaviour, whether it appears enjoyable or whether it is harmful or beneficial. The second factor, subjective norm, considers whether others do and/or encourage the behaviour. The final factor is perceived control, which looks at whether users feel confident and/or capable of performing the behaviour. Together, they form a behavioural intention and the more positive they are, the stronger the intention.


Where’s the problem?
With TPB you can centre in on the root of the problem. For example, management might think of a solution for improving a  previously unused learning management system. When analysing the problem, different problems should result in different outcomes. If users find the system difficult and impossible to use, or in other words: lack of perceived control,, then an overhaul of the system might be necessary. However, if the subjective norm is flawed, creating the most comprehensive system, will not solve it. Here, if the social perspective on the behaviour is not confronted, it will not lead to a change in behaviour. Similarly, if someone considers a behaviour harmful because it interferes with their daily workload for example, it won’t help even if everybody encourages them to do it. Find and design for the real problem.


How to solve it?
An interesting example is our communication trainer Jive. We found that the main reason why employees didn’t develop their communication skills was that they had no easy, accessible way to practice. It was mainly a perceived control issue. That’s why we opted for a mobile recording app that lets employees practice responses to common and difficult questions, reflect on their performance, and ask for feedback from trusted colleagues. These aspects allows the to feel more in control of their own communication learning. What should also be considered is that a created solution will also be subject to new social norms and attitudes. Be careful not to replace an attitude problem (the program is boring) with a perceived control issue for example (the new app is difficult to use).
By using The Theory of Planned Behaviour you can get a better grip on the underlying reasons for occurring behaviour so you can focus your design on the right problems. Valuable as an analytical tool both in analysing existing behaviour as well as projecting future behaviour, The Theory of Planned Behaviour should be in every UX designer’s utility belt.


Summary: The Theory of Planned Behaviour is a useful tool for identifying what the problem may be, where the problem exists and how you can solve the problem. By adhearing to the analysis, you can create digital solutions that target these aspects and can eventually aid towards behavioural change.