• Jason Wulfsohn // MSc (Med) Exercise Science

Editor's musings: The Behaviour Change Wheel and me

My previous article on behaviour change was brought about due to frustrations with non-compliance to my training programs. I mentioned that I wanted to move away from “compliance” and strive for “commitment” instead. All well and good, but I still want to understand behaviour a bit further. Also, I want to know what my options are for trying to effect change.

I came across the Behaviour Change Wheel (BCW)[1] while I was researching for the previous article and I must admit that I was a bit intimidated by it at first. How does it work? How deep will I have to go to understand it? As it turns out, not very deep. I managed to glean a basic understanding from the unpublished piece by Lefevre et al. (2016)[2]. At its core is the COM-B system for understanding behaviour. Capability, Opportunity, and Motivation interact with each other and then produce, and are influenced by, Behaviour (fig. 1).

The centre of the BCW (fig. 2) is quite important, because an individual must have the Physical and Psychological Capability, the Physical and Social Opportunity, and the Motivation to perform certain behaviours. Motivation can take the form of either Reflective, which involves conscious decision-making, or Automatic, which involves a person’s habits and emotional responses. To create a basic example, a person may not want to perform a power clean (Behaviour), not for lack of strength or power (Physical – Capability), but because they have never been taught (Psychological – Capability). If we look at the BCW, we’ve identified the barrier amongst the sources of behaviour, and now need to introduce an intervention, a beginner’s technique class perhaps (Training). It would probably be wise to put a policy in place, such as establishing a time and day for the class (Service provision) and/or stating that people can only attempt advanced training once they have been through the beginner’s class (Legislation).

Having made up my own example in the previous paragraph, I’ve managed to find one in the literature. Coaching development programs would be a form of service provision (Policy), as they are designed with behaviour change in mind. It is here we can see an example of the outwards flow of using the BCW during the process of developing a Transformational Coaching Workshop*[3]. The researchers started with a study to establish coaches’ perceptions of their Capability, Opportunity, and Motivation to employ transformational coaching behaviours. They then used the results to decide on appropriate Intervention Functions. Thereafter, relevant behaviour change techniques and policies were decided upon. Developing an evidence-based coaching development program isn’t quite as straightforward as that, so there were many more techniques, acronyms, and theories that went into the mixing pot, but I feel it conveys the inside-out process of the BCW.

I mentioned in that previous article that I would try to spend more time on player education in my future training endeavours. Education just happens to be an Intervention Function on the BCW. However, am I putting the cart before the horse? Perhaps Psychological/Knowledge Capability wasn’t the problem for the lack of commitment. It is more likely that it was a Motivation barrier that I was encountering. Boys had formed training habits (Automatic – Motivation) before I arrived on the scene, and I was fighting their training culture. Table 1 provides a guide as to which intervention functions are relevant for the various Sources of Behaviour. Let’s say I go with Incentivisation (the carrot being better than the stick) as my intervention, with an overarching Fiscal Policy of providing a team dinner if they collectively complete 80% of their training sessions over a given period.

I’m not saying you should print the BCW, put it up on your wall, build a small shrine, burn some incense, and bow down in worship of it. I’m certainly not suggesting that, but I would suggest that it could be quite helpful to be familiar with the basics of it. Merely being aware of the options you have for Intervention Functions and Policy Categories means that you will be less likely to miss or neglect a viable option for affecting behaviour change[1].

Please keep in mind that at the time of writing this, my examples and ideas are speculative, but I’ll aim to do a report back in the future about how I’ve put this information into practice. While I’m trying to make this part of my decision-making process, it would be great to hear if anyone else has used the BCW before, and how it worked out for them. Anyone?

*TCW is based on Transformational Leadership Theory, whereby leadership is follower-centred and aims to develop future leaders through empowerment and inspirational behaviours[3].

  1. Michie, S., van Stralen, M. M. & West, R. The behaviour change wheel: A new method for characterising and designing behaviour change interventions. Implement. Sci. 6, 1–11 (2011).

  2. Lefevre, C. E. The Behaviour Change Wheel in Action – applying behaviour change methods and techniques to environmental issues. (2016).

  3. Turnnidge, J. & Côté, J. Transformational Coaching Workshop: Applying a Person-Centred Approach to Coach Development Programs. Int. Sport Coach. J. 4, 314–325 (2017).


Sport Science Collective. Proudly created with Wix.com

This site was designed with the
website builder. Create your website today.
Start Now