My Behavior Design Process (The SPARK Method)

My Behavior Design Process (The SPARK Method)

I have a very simple behavior design process that I’ve been using for years.

It based on well over a decade of research, applied behavioral science work, and hundreds of small and large scale field experiments.

Here it is in its simplest form:

  1. Define your goal

  2. Brainstorm behaviors and solutions for the goal

  3. Choose the behavior or solution that is the best fit for the target

  4. Implement

  5. Simplify or choose a new behavior (if necessary)

All the hard work is done in steps 2 and 3. These steps require a great deal of creativity and insight, and is where all the magic occurs.

Your solution will only be as good as your imagination (step 2) and your ability to understand yourself (or your audience, if you’re not designing for yourself) (step 3).

This is why most of the innovations I have made in the applied behavioral sciences have been related to personalized behavior matching — that is, figuring out optimal methods for determining which behaviors a given individual or user group should do.

When I teach the above behavior design process, I normally speak about it as the SPARK Method. The SPARK method is just another way of expressing the steps outlined above:

  • S: Select

    • Choose a desired goal/outcome

    • Create a large list of potential ways of achieving the desired goal/outcome

  • P: Personalize

    • Come up with an in-depth profile of the person or group you’re trying to influence

  • A: Attract

    • Determine how attractive and doable each behavior from your list is based on your profile (from the Personalize phase)

    • Based on this score, choose a behavior

  • R: Reduce (optional)

    • Make the behavior simpler and easier to do

  • K: Keep (optional)

    • Add a reward to the behavior to increase the odds it’s performed again

If we were to break out the steps of the SPARK Method into a list, it would look like this:

  1. Choose a desired goal/outcome

  2. Brainstorm a large list of potential ways the goal/outcome can be achieved

  3. Create an in-depth profile of the person/group you’re trying to influence

  4. Score the behaviors (from step 2) according to your in-depth profile (step 3)

  5. Choose the top-scored behavior (step 4)

  6. Make the behavior simpler and easier to perform (if necessary)

  7. Make the behavior more rewarding and fun (if necessary)

  8. If the behavior doesn’t become a habit, go back to step 5 and choose the next behavior in your rank-ordered list

This process differs considerably from other behavior-change approaches in a few ways:

  1. It starts with the goal, not the behavior.

  2. It focuses on gaining a deep understanding of the person or group you’re trying to influence.

  3. It allows you to come up with a rank ordered list of potential solutions/behaviors to try.

  4. It’s iterative, and lays out a clear long-term plan of attack for achieving the goal in question.

  5. It gives you multiple different behaviors/solutions you can try at once (this is particularly useful if you’re trying to influence large groups and have the sample to test multiple approaches simultaneously)