Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Methods for environmental change; an exploratory study

Gerjo Kok1*, Nell H Gottlieb2, Robert Panne1 and Chris Smerecnik3

Author Affiliations

1 Work & Social Psychology, Maastricht University, Maastricht, the Netherlands

2 Kinesiology & Health Education, University of Texas at Austin, Texas, USA

3 Applied Psychology, Fontys Hogeschool, Eindhoven, the Netherlands

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:1037  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-1037

Published: 28 November 2012



While the interest of health promotion researchers in change methods directed at the target population has a long tradition, interest in change methods directed at the environment is still developing. In this survey, the focus is on methods for environmental change; especially about how these are composed of methods for individual change (‘Bundling’) and how within one environmental level, organizations, methods differ when directed at the management (‘At’) or applied by the management (‘From’).


The first part of this online survey dealt with examining the ‘bundling’ of individual level methods to methods at the environmental level. The question asked was to what extent the use of an environmental level method would involve the use of certain individual level methods. In the second part of the survey the question was whether there are differences between applying methods directed ‘at’ an organization (for instance, by a health promoter) versus ‘from’ within an organization itself. All of the 20 respondents are experts in the field of health promotion.


Methods at the individual level are frequently bundled together as part of a method at a higher ecological level. A number of individual level methods are popular as part of most of the environmental level methods, while others are not chosen very often. Interventions directed at environmental agents often have a strong focus on the motivational part of behavior change.

There are different approaches targeting a level or being targeted from a level. The health promoter will use combinations of motivation and facilitation. The manager will use individual level change methods focusing on self-efficacy and skills. Respondents think that any method may be used under the right circumstances, although few endorsed coercive methods.


Taxonomies of theoretical change methods for environmental change should include combinations of individual level methods that may be bundled and separate suggestions for methods targeting a level or being targeted from a level. Future research needs to cover more methods to rate and to be rated. Qualitative data may explain some of the surprising outcomes, such as the lack of large differences and the avoidance of coercion. Taxonomies should include the theoretical parameters that limit the effectiveness of the method.

Behavior change method; Environment; Health promotion; Intervention