Using qualitative methodologies to understand behaviour change
Purpose- The purpose of this paper is to explore the use of qualitative approaches to add depth and insight to our understanding concerning the issues involved when consumers try to make changes in their behaviour. The context of this study is people trying to make and sustain changes to their dietary behaviour. Taking Prochaska and Di Clemente’s (1982) Stages of Change model as the starting point, this paper marks a departure from other work in the behavioural change area in so far as a qualitative approach is adopted rather than a quantitative perspective (Anderson 1986, Hudson & Ozanne, 2001).
Design/Methodology/approach- This study was longitudinal in design (Malhotra & Birks 2007) and the data presented concerns groups of people who were categorized as belonging to stages of change and who followed a similar stage of change pattern over a period of 18 months (according to the Stage of Change algorithm described by Curry et al, 1992).
Findings- By examining peoples’ behaviour changes in depth, the similarities and differences in their attitudes and motivations are revealed in terms of their dietary behaviour change and maintenance of change. This provides a more refined understanding of both how people make changes and how they maintain them over time.
Research limitations/implications- While focusing only on a small number of people, the weaknesses of the Stages of Change model is demonstrated and how qualitative research approaches can be used to add depth and meaning to quantitative methodologies popular in the social marketing domain.
Originality/value of paper- This paper demonstrates that the Stages of Change model has value in categorizing people into stages of change and measuring these changes over time but is limited in its ability to develop understanding of the lived experience of trying to change behaviour. In this way, while the Stages of Change model serves as a useful segmentation tool, qualitative methodologies are essential to developing the level of consumer insight necessary to developing targeted interventions tailored to the needs of change groups.