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Turning cities into living labs to improve our health and wellbeing

Design-thinking, Health, Psychology, Sustainability, environment, experiments, principles, wbs, wellbeing

One of the major triumphs of psychology and design over the last 40 years has been to demonstrate how human behaviour is heavily influenced by context. Our beliefs, actions and experiences are entwined with the surrounding environment and our decisions are rarely made in isolation.

For instance, we’re more likely to judge other people’s relationships as unstable if we’re sitting on a wobbly chair rather than a normal one. Exposure to a clean smell can encourage people to wash their hands and challenges appear less difficult if we’re standing with friends.

Findings like these from across psychology, economics and neuroscience – broadly behavioural science – are continuing to challenge long-held assumptions about the forces that shape our behaviour. The result is a large base of evidence that can be used to guide and support people in making better decisions.

The problem is that many policy or planning decisions are still blind to these insights. Walk for five minutes in any city and you will experience huge variation in the effects of messages, services and infrastructure designed to improve our health and wellbeing. Where there is variation, there is a need to experiment to find what works and improve what doesn’t.

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