Using Industrial Theatre to bring about behaviour change in the workplace

As industrial theatre specialists with a focus on health and safety, we often get questions from clients about how to get people to change their workplace behaviours. Everybody in the factory knows that you can’t wear loose clothing if you are working next to the conveyor belt, but nobody tucks their shirt in. The risk of accident from loose clothing getting caught up in the conveyor is obvious, and yet …

Posing the problem

The key to bringing about a change in behaviour is to understand why the current behaviour persists, even in the face of knowledge about the risk.  We believe that change can only be brought about through developing critical thinking (critical consciousness) and that it is easier for individuals to make changes in their own lives if those around them and the community they live in support that change.

These beliefs are based on well-known and tested theories, as summarised below:

Change can only be brought about through developing critical thinking

The Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, promotes the idea that adults learn best through a process of problem-posing.  Problem-posing education involves working with the information and experiences that the group already has. This local knowledge is used as a starting point to ask questions that help the participants to develop a critical understanding of their personal experiences. The process of questioning helps them to understand the problems that they face, and to start to find ways to address these.  

Critical thinking allows people to explore the how individual and social issues are related, so that they can understand a problem in its context, and identify ways to take collective action to bring about change.

Considering Networks and Community

The Social Ecology Model of Communication and Health Behaviour helps us understand the relationship between the individual, their social networks, the community, and wider society. This model can help us to understand how a person is influenced by where they live and those around them, and how this impacts on their ability to make changes to their own behaviour.

It is easier for individuals to make changes in their own lives if those around them and the community they live in support that change

The individual: Every person’s decisions about health behaviour are affected by their own knowledge, beliefs, values, personal experience, self-image and their own belief in themselves to make a change.

Social networks: Social networks are the social forces such as family, partners and friends that surround and influence an individual. These networks can influence how people make decisions about their own behaviour.

The community: The physical and the social community that an individual lives in can also influence their decisions. Access to services and resources, how people participate in community structures and power dynamics can either support or prevent an individual from making changes.

Society: National policies and programmes, governmental leadership, infrastructure and the predominant religious and cultural values of society have a strong influence on how people make decisions about their behaviour.

All of these four factors combine to influence decision-making, and any workplace campaign needs to address all four factors if we hope to have success in influencing people to make changes in their own behaviours. 

So, when we are working with industrial theatre, we need to keep reminding ourselves that these factors always have an influence, and that each level of the individual, the social networks, the community and society needs to be examined when we look at where problems are, how they come about, and how change can happen.

Putting it all in context with Industrial Theatre

Essentially, the problem is not one person in a loose shirt standing next to a conveyor belt. That person needs to identify his or her experiences and frame the problem in their own words.  They need to consider a world of influences outside the factory and we need to understand how these impact on the reaction to a “tuck your shirt in” message.  That is where industrial theatre comes in: A play is able to show the person and the problem in context and to consider all the human factors in decision-making: showing how solutions might be able to work.  Try it and see!



To read more, see:

Freire, P. (1973) Education for critical consciousness.  New York: Continuum.

Kincaid, D.L., Figueroa, M. E., Storey, J.D. & Underwood, C.R. (2007) A social ecology model of communication, behaviour change, and behaviour maintenance. Working paper. Center for Communication Programs, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.