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Improving the design and implementation of evidence-based practice depends on successful behaviour change interventions. This requires an appropriate method for characterising interventions and linking them to an analysis of the targeted behaviour. There exists a plethora of frameworks of behaviour change interventions, but it is not clear how well they serve this purpose. This paper evaluates these frameworks, and develops and evaluates a new framework aimed at overcoming their limitations. A systematic search of electronic databases and consultation with behaviour change experts were used to identify frameworks of behaviour change interventions. These were evaluated according to three criteria: comprehensiveness, coherence, and a clear link to an overarching model of behaviour. A new framework was developed to meet these criteria. The reliability with which it could be applied was examined in two domains of behaviour change: tobacco control and obesity. Nineteen frameworks were identified covering nine intervention functions and seven policy categories that could enable those interventions. None of the frameworks reviewed covered the full range of intervention functions or policies, and only a minority met the criteria of coherence or linkage to a model of behaviour. At the centre of a proposed new framework is a 'behaviour system' involving three essential conditions: capability, opportunity, and motivation (what we term the 'COM-B system'). This forms the hub of a 'behaviour change wheel' (BCW) around which are positioned the nine intervention functions aimed at addressing deficits in one or more of these conditions; around this are placed seven categories of policy that could enable those interventions to occur. The BCW was used reliably to characterise interventions within the English Department of Health's 2010 tobacco control strategy and the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence's guidance on reducing obesity. Interventions and policies to change behaviour can be usefully characterised by means of a BCW comprising: a 'behaviour system' at the hub, encircled by intervention functions and then by policy categories. Research is needed to establish how far the BCW can lead to more efficient design of effective interventions.
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Implementation
Science
The behaviour change wheel: A new method for
characterising and designing behaviour change
interventions
Michie et al.
Michie et al.Implementation Science 2011, 6:42
http://www.implementationscience.com/content/6/1/42 (23 April 2011)
RESEARCH Open Access
The behaviour change wheel: A new method for
characterising and designing behaviour change
interventions
Susan Michie
1*
, Maartje M van Stralen
2
and Robert West
3
Abstract
Background: Improving the design and implementation of evidence-based practice depends on successful
behaviour change interventions. This requires an appropriate method for characterising interventions and linking
them to an analysis of the targeted behaviour. There exists a plethora of frameworks of behaviour change
interventions, but it is not clear how well they serve this purpose. This paper evaluates these frameworks, and
develops and evaluates a new framework aimed at overcoming their limitations.
Methods: A systematic search of electronic databases and consultation with behaviour change experts were used
to identify frameworks of behaviour change interventions. These were evaluated according to three criteria:
comprehensiveness, coherence, and a clear link to an overarching model of behaviour. A new framework was
developed to meet these criteria. The reliability with which it could be applied was examined in two domains of
behaviour change: tobacco control and obesity.
Results: Nineteen frameworks were identified covering nine intervention functions and seven policy categories
that could enable those interventions. None of the frameworks reviewed covered the full range of intervention
functions or policies, and only a minority met the criteria of coherence or linkage to a model of behaviour. At the
centre of a proposed new framework is a behaviour systeminvolving three essential conditions: capability,
opportunity, and motivation (what we term the COM-B system). This forms the hub of a behaviour change wheel
(BCW) around which are positioned the nine intervention functions aimed at addressing deficits in one or more of
these conditions; around this are placed seven categories of policy that could enable those interventions to occur.
The BCW was used reliably to characterise interventions within the English Department of Healths 2010 tobacco
control strategy and the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellences guidance on reducing obesity.
Conclusions: Interventions and policies to change behaviour can be usefully characterised by means of a BCW
comprising: a behaviour systemat the hub, encircled by intervention functions and then by policy categories.
Research is needed to establish how far the BCW can lead to more efficient design of effective interventions.
Background
Improving the implementation of evidence-based prac-
tice and public health depends on behaviour change.
Thus, behaviour change interventions are fundamental
to the effective practice of clinical medicine and public
health, as indeed they are to many pressing issues facing
society. Behaviour change interventionscan be defined
as coordinated sets of activities designed to change
specified behaviour patterns. In general, these behaviour
patterns are measured in terms of the prevalence or
incidence of particular behaviours in specified popula-
tions (e.g., delivery of smoking cessation advice by gen-
eral practitioners). Interventions are used to promote
uptake and optimal use of effective clinical services, and
to promote healthy lifestyles. Evidence of intervention
effectiveness serves to guide health providers to imple-
ment what is considered to be best practice (for exam-
ple, Cochrane reviews, NICE guidance). While there are
many examples of successful interventions, there are
also countless examples of ones that it was hoped would
* Correspondence: s.michie@ucl.ac.uk
1
Research Dept of Clinical, Educational, and Health Psychology, University
College London, 1-19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HB, UK
Full list of author information is available at the end of the article
Michie et al.Implementation Science 2011, 6:42
http://www.implementationscience.com/content/6/1/42
Implementation
Science
© 2011 Michie et al ; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access art icle distributed under t he terms of the Creative Commons
Attribution License (http://creative commons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in
any medium, pro vided the original work is properly cited.
be effective but were not [[1], e.g. [2,3]]. To improve this
situation, and to improve the translation of research into
practice, we need to develop the science and technology
of behaviour change and make this useful to those
designing interventions and planning policy.
The process of designing behaviour change interven-
tions usually involves first of all determining the broad
approach that will be adopted and then working on the
specifics of the intervention design. For example, when
attempting to reduce excessive antibiotic prescribing
one may decide that an educational intervention is the
appropriate approach. Alternatively, one may seek to
incentivise appropriate prescribing or in some way pena-
lise inappropriate prescribing. Once one has done this,
one would decide on the specific intervention compo-
nents. This paper examines this first part of this process.
We and others are also working on how one identifies
specific component behaviour change techniques[4,5].
In order to identify the type or types of intervention
that are likely to be effective, it is important to canvass
the full range of options available and use a rational sys-
tem for selecting from among them. This requires a sys-
tem for characterising interventions that covers all
possible intervention types together with a system for
matching these features to the behavioural target, the tar-
get population, and the context in which the intervention
will be delivered. This should be underpinned by a model
of behaviour and the factors that influence it.
Interventions are commonly designed without evidence
of having gone through this kind of process, with no for-
mal analysis of either the target behaviour or the theore-
tically predicted mechanisms of action. They are based
on implicit commonsense models of behaviour [6]. Even
when one or more models or theories are chosen to
guide the intervention, they do not cover the full range of
possible influences so exclude potentially important vari-
ables. For example, the often used Theory of Planned
Behaviour and Health Belief Model do not address the
important roles of impulsivity, habit, self-control, associa-
tive learning, and emotional processing [7].
In addition, often no analysis is undertaken to guide
the choice of theories [8]. Useful guidance from the UK
Medical Research Council for developing and evaluating
complex interventions advocates drawing on theory in
intervention design but does not specify how to select
and apply theory [9]. It should also be noted that even
when interventions are said to be guided by theory, in
practice they are often not or are only minimally [10].
Thus, in order to improve intervention design, we
need a systematic method that incorporates an under-
standing of the nature of the behaviour to be changed,
and an appropriate system for characterising interven-
tions and their components that can make use of this
understanding. These constitute a starting point for
assessing in what circumstances different types of inter-
vention are likely to be effective which can then form
the basis for intervention design.
There exists a plethora of frameworks for classifying
behaviour change interventions but an informal analysis
suggests that none are comprehensive and conceptually
coherent. For example, MINDSPACEan influential
report from the UKs Institute of Government, is
intended as a checklist for policymakers of the most
important influences on behaviour [11]. These influ-
ences provide initial letters for the acronym MIND-
SPACE: messenger, incentives, norms, defaults, salience,
priming, affect, commitment, and ego. The framework
does not appear to encompass all the important inter-
vention types. Moreover, the list is a mixture of modes
of delivery (e.g., messenger), stimulus attributes (e.g., sal-
ience), characteristics of the recipient (e.g., ego), policy
strategies (e.g., defaults), mechanisms of action (e.g.,
priming), and related psychological constructs (e.g.,
affect). In that sense it lacks coherence. The report
recognises two systems by which human behaviour can
be influenced the reflective and the automatic but it
focuses on the latter and does not attempt to link influ-
ences on behaviour with these two systems.
A second example comes from the Cochrane Effective
Practice and Organisation of Care Review Group
(EPOC)s 2010 taxonomy [12]. This categorises interven-
tions to change health professional behaviour into pro-
fessional, financial, organisational, or regulatory,
covering many of the key intervention types. However,
the categories are very broad and within each is a mix-
ture of different types of interventions at different con-
ceptual levels. For example, professionalincludes
individual behaviour (distributing educational materials)
and organisational interventions (local consensus pro-
cesses); financialincludes individual and organisational
incentives and environmental restructuring (changing
the available products); organisationalincludes input
(changing skill mix), processes (communication) and
effects (satisfaction of providers); and regulatory
includes legal (changes in patient liability) and social
influence (peer review). Professional, financial, and orga-
nisational interventions are found across all categories.
Aside from specific frameworks, there are some broad
distinctions that have been widely adopted. One such
distinction is between population-level and individual-
level interventions [13]. While superficially appealing,
there are many interventions that this distinction cannot
readily classify and it has not been possible to arrive at
a satisfactory definition of the distinction that does not
contain inconsistencies. For example, if wide reach is a
feature of population level interventions, routine general
practitioner (GP) smoking assessment and advice (given
to all patients) should fall into that category; yet it is
Michie et al.Implementation Science 2011, 6:42
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delivered specifically to individuals and can be tailored
to those individuals. Indeed, the NHS Stop Smoking
Services might be considered a typical case of indivi-
dual-level interventions, but they reach more than
600,000 smokers each year [14]. We do not consider
these broad distinctions further in this paper.
It appears that most intervention designers do not use
existing frameworks as a basis for developing new inter-
ventions or for analysing why some interventions have
failed while others have succeeded. One reason for this
may be that these frameworks do not meet their needs.
In order to choose the interventions likely to be most
effective, it makes sense to start with a model of beha-
viour. This model should capture the range of mechan-
isms that may be involved in change, including those
that are internal (psychological and physical) and those
that involve changes to the external environment. In
general, insufficient attention appears to be given to
analysing the nature of behaviour as the starting point
of behaviour change interventions [15], a notable excep-
tion being intervention mapping [16]. Nature of the
behaviourwas identified as one of 12 theoretical
domains of influence on implementation-relevant beha-
viours [9]. Whilst this framework of 12 theoretical
domains has proved useful in assessing and intervening
with implementation problems [9], the domain of beha-
viour has remained under-theorised and therefore
underused in its application.
There are a number of possible objections to attempt-
ing to construct the kind of behavioural model
described and link this to intervention types. The most
obvious criticism is that the area is too complex and
that the constructs too ill-defined to be able to establish
a useful, scientifically-based framework. Another is that
no framework can address the level of detail required to
determine what will or will not be an effective interven-
tion. The response to this is twofold: these are empirical
questions and there is already evidence that characteris-
ing interventions by behaviour change techniques
(BCTs) can be helpful in understanding which interven-
tions are more or less effective [6,17]; and not to
embark on this enterprise is to give up on achieving a
science of behaviour change before the first hurdle and
condemn this field to opinion and fashion.
To achieve its goal, a framework for characterising
interventions should be comprehensive: it should apply
to every intervention that has been or could be devel-
oped. Failure to do this limits the scope of the system to
offer options for intervention designers that may be
effective.
Second, the framework needs to be coherent in that
its categories are all exemplars of the same type of entity
and have a broadly similar level of specificity. Thus,
categories should be from a super-ordinate entity (e.g.,
function of the intervention), and the framework should
notincludesomecategoriesthatareverybroadand
others very specific. A beautiful example of an incoher-
ent classification system is the Ancient Chinese Classifi-
cation of Animals: those that belong to the Emperor,
embalmed ones, those that are trained, suckling pigs,
mermaids, fabulous ones, stray dogs, those that are
included in this classification, those that tremble as if
they were mad, innumerable ones, those drawn with a
very fine camels hair brush, others, those that have just
broken a flower vase, and those that resemble flies from
a distance(Luis Borges Other Inquisitions: 1937-1952).
In addition, the categories should be able to be linked
to specific behaviour change mechanisms that in turn
can be linked to the model of behaviour. These require-
ments constitute three criteria of usefulness that can be
used to evaluate the framework: comprehensiveness,
coherence, and links to an overarching model of beha-
viour. We limited the criteria to those we considered to
form a basis for judging adequacy. There are others, e.g.,
parsimony, that are desirable features but do not lend
themselves to thresholds. Other criteria can be used to
evaluate its applicability, e.g., reliability, ease of use, ease
of communication, ability to explain outcomes, useful-
ness for generating new interventions, and ability to pre-
dict effectiveness of interventions
In light of the above, this paper aims to:
1. Review existing frameworks of behavioural interven-
tions to establish how far each meets the criteria of use-
fulness, and to identify a comprehensive list of
intervention descriptors at a level of generality that is
usable by intervention designers and policy makers.
2. Use this list to construct a framework of behaviour
change interventions that meets the usefulness criteria
listed above.
3. Establish the reliability with which the new frame-
work can be used to characterise interventions in two
public health domains.
Methods
Prior to reviewing the literature on intervention frame-
works, we needed to establish a set of criteria for evalu-
ating their usefulness. Following this, our method
involved three steps: a systematic literature review and
evaluation of existing behaviour change intervention fra-
meworks, development of a new framework, and a test
of the reliability of the new framework.
Establishing criteria of usefulness
From the analysis set out in the Introduction, we estab-
lished three criteria of usefulness:
1. Comprehensive coverage the framework should
apply to every intervention that has been or could be
developed: failure to do this limits the scope of the
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system to offer options for intervention designers that
may be effective.
2. Coherence, i.e., categories are all exemplars of the
same type and specificity of entity.
3. Links to an overarching model of behaviour.
We use the term modelhere in the sense defined in the
Oxford English Dictionary: a hypothetical description of a
complex entity or process.For the overarching model of
behaviour, we started with motivation, defined as: brain
processes that energize and direct behaviour) [18]. This is
a much broader conceptualisation than appears in many
discourses, covering as it does basic drives and automatic
processes as well as choice and intention.
Our next step was to consider the minimum number
of additional factors needed to account for whether
change in the behavioural target would occur, given suf-
ficient motivation. We drew on two sources represent-
ing very different traditions: a US consensus meeting of
behavioural theorists in 1991 [19], and a principle of US
criminal law dating back many centuries. The former
identified three factors that were necessary and suffi-
cient prerequisites for the performance of a specified
volitional behaviour: the skills necessary to perform the
behaviour, a strong intention to perform the behaviour,
and no environmental constraints that make it impossi-
ble to perform the behaviour. Under US criminal law, in
order to prove that someone is guilty of a crime one has
to show three things: means or capability, opportunity,
and motive. This suggested a potentially elegant way of
representing the necessary conditions for a volitional
behaviour to occur. The common conclusion from these
two separate strands of thought lends confidence to this
model of behaviour. We have built on this to add non-
volitional mechanisms involved in motivation (e.g.,
habits) and to conceptualise causal associations between
the components in an interacting system.
In this behaviour system,capability, opportunity, and
motivation interact to generate behaviour that in turn
influences these components as shown in Figure 1 (the
COM-Bsystem). Capability is defined as the indivi-
duals psychological and physical capacity to engage in
the activity concerned. It includes having the necessary
knowledge and skills. Motivation is defined as all those
brain processes that energize and direct behaviour, not
just goals and conscious decision-making. It includes
habitual processes, emotional responding, as well as ana-
lytical decision-making. Opportunity is defined as all the
factors that lie outside the individual that make the
behaviour possible or prompt it. The single-headed and
double-headed arrows in Figure 1 represent potential
influence between components in the system. For exam-
ple, opportunity can influence motivation as can cap-
ability; enacting a behaviour can alter capability,
motivation, and opportunity.
A given intervention might change one or more com-
ponents in the behaviour system. The causal links
within the system can work to reduce or amplify the
effect of particular interventions by leading to changes
elsewhere. While this is a model of behaviour, it also
provides a basis for designing interventions aimed at
behaviour change. Applying this to intervention design,
the task would be to consider what the behavioural tar-
get would be, and what components of the behaviour
system would need to be changed to achieve that.
This system places no priority on an individual, group,
or environmental perspective intra-psychic and exter-
nal factors all have equal status in controlling behaviour.
However, for a given behaviour in a given context it
provides a way of identifying how far changing particu-
lar components or combinations of components could
effect the required transformation. For example, with
one behavioural target the only barrier might be capabil-
ity, while for another it may be enough to provide or
restrict opportunities, while for yet another changes to
capability, motivation, and opportunity may be required.
Within the three components that generate behaviour,
it is possible to develop further subdivisions that capture
important distinctions noted in the research literature.
Thus, with regard to capability, we distinguished
between physical and psychological capability (psycholo-
gical capability being the capacity to engage in the
necessary thought processes - comprehension, reasoning
et al.). With opportunity, we distinguished between phy-
sical opportunity afforded by the environment and social
opportunity afforded by the cultural milieu that dictates
the way that we think about things (e.g., the words and
concepts that make up our language). With regard to
motivation, we distinguished between reflective pro-
cesses (involving evaluations and plans) and automatic
processes (involving emotions and impulses that arise
from associative learning and/or innate dispositions)
[7,18,20]. Thus, we identified six components within the
behavioural system (Figure 1). All, apart from reflective
Figure 1 The COM-B system - a framework for understanding
behaviour.
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motivation, are necessary for a given behaviour but it is
possible to generate a profile of which should be tar-
geted to achieve the behavioural target.
Systematic literature review of current frameworks
We used the following search terms to identify scholarly
articles containing frameworks of behaviour change
interventions: Topic = (taxonomy or framework or clas-
sification) AND Topic = (behaviour changeor beha-
vior change) AND Topic = (prevention OR intervention
OR promotion OR treatment OR program OR pro-
gramme OR policy OR law OR politics OR regulation
OR government OR institute OR legislation).
Searches of Web of Science (Science and Social Science
databases), Pubmed. and PsycInfo were supplemented by
consulting with eight international experts in behaviour
change, drawn from the disciplines of psychology, health
promotion, epidemiology, public health, and anthropol-
ogy. Given that there may be frameworks described in
books and non peer-reviewed articles, we acknowledged
that it was unlikely that we would arrive at a complete
set, but we sought to canvass enough to be able to under-
take an analysis of how well as a whole they matched the
criteria described earlier and to achieve sufficient cover-
age of the key concepts and labels.
Documents were included if: they described a frame-
work of behaviour change interventions (not specific
behaviour change techniques); the framework was speci-
fied in enough detail to allow their key features to be
discerned; and they were written in English. They were
originally selected on the basis of titles and abstracts. A
subset was then selected using the inclusion criteria for
full review. The nature of the topic meant that this
review could not be undertaken using the PRISMA
guidelines [21].
Once the frameworks were identified, their categories
and category definitions were extracted and tabulated.
This was done independently by MS and a researcher
who was not part of the study team or familiar with this
work. The frameworks were coded according to the cri-
teria for usefulness by RW and SM.
Develop a new framework
The new framework was developed by tabulating the full
set of intervention categories that had been identified
and establishing links between intervention characteris-
tics and components of the COM-B system that may
need to be changed. The definitions and conceptualisa-
tion of the intervention categories were refined through
discussion and by consulting the American Psychologi-
cal Associations Dictionary of Psychology and the
Oxford English Dictionary. The resulting framework was
then compared with the existing ones in terms of the
criteria of usefulness (i.e., met or not met).
Finally,astructurefortheframework,intermsof
organisation of components and links between them
was arrived at through an iterative process of discussion
and testing against specific examples and counter-exam-
ples. Linking interventions to components of the beha-
viour system was achieved with the help of a broad
theory of motivation that encapsulated both reflective
and automatic aspects, and focused on the moment to
moment control of behaviour by the internal and exter-
nal environment which in turn is influenced by that
behaviour and the processes leading up to it [7]. Thus,
for example, interventions that involved coercion could
influence reflective motivation by changing conscious
evaluations of the options or by establishing automatic
associations between anticipation of the behaviour and
negative feelings in the presence of particular cues.
There is not the space to go into details of this analysis
here. These can be found in [7].
Test the reliability of the framework
The framework was used independently by RW and SM
to classify the 24 components of the 2010 English gov-
ernment tobacco control strategy [22] and the 21 com-
ponents of the 2006 NICE obesity guidance [23]. The
level of inter-rater agreement was computed and any
differences resolved through discussion. The areas of
tobacco control and obesity reduction were chosen
because these are among the most important in public
health and ones where health professional behaviour has
consistently been found to fall short of that recom-
mended by evidence-based guidelines [24-26]. In addi-
tion, these documents cover a wide spectrum of
behaviour change approaches. Following reliability test-
ing and discussion of any disagreements, a gold stan-
dardwas established.
Next, reliability of use by practitioners was assessed by
asking two policy experts (the Department of Health
Policy Lead for implementation of the 2010 English gov-
ernment tobacco control strategy and a tobacco
researcher) to independently classify the 24 components
ofthestrategy(seeAdditionalfile1forcodingmateri-
als). Their coding data were compared with the gold
standard.
Results
Systematic literature review of existing frameworks
From the systematic literature search, 1,267 articles were
identified from the electronic databases, eight of which
met our inclusion criteria. The expert consultations pro-
duced a further 17 articles, 11 of which met the inclu-
sion criteria resulting in a total of 19 articles describing
19 frameworks. (See Additional file 2 for more detail of
flow of studies through the review process, and
Additional file 3 for reasons for exclusion). Additional
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file 4 shows the frameworks and gives a brief description
of each [11,12,16,27-42].
Several things became apparent when reviewing the
frameworks. First of all, it was clear it would be neces-
sary to define terms describing categories of intervention
more precisely than is done in everyday language in
order to achieve coherence. For example, in everyday
language educationcan include training,but for our
purposes it was necessary to distinguish between educa-
tionand trainingwith the former focusing on impart-
ing knowledge and developing understanding and the
latter focusing on development of skills. Similarly we
had to differentiate trainingfrom modelling.In com-
mon parlance, modelling could be a method used in
training, but we use the term more specifically to refer
to using our propensity to imitate as a motivational
device. A third example is the use of the term enable-
ment.In everyday use, this could include most of the
other intervention categories, but here refers to forms of
enablement that are either more encompassing (as in,
for example, behavioural supportfor smoking cessa-
tion) or work through other mechanisms (as in, for
example, pharmacological interventions to aid smoking
cessation or surgery to enable control of calorie intake).
There is not a term in the English language to describe
that we intend, so rather than invent a new term we
have stayed with enablement.
Second, it became apparent that a distinction needed
to be made between interventions (activities aimed at
changing behaviour) and policies (actions on the part of
responsible authorities that enable or support interven-
tions). For example, an intervention that involved incen-
tivising primary care organisations to prioritise public
health interventions could be implemented through dif-
ferent policies such as producing guidelines and/or leg-
islation. A second example is that raising the financial
cost of a behaviour whose incidence one wishes to
reduce (an example of coercion) could be enabled and
supported by different policies, from fiscal measures
(taxation) to legislation (fines). We therefore had to
divide the categories that emerged into interventions
and policies.
Third, any given intervention could in principle per-
form more than one behaviour change function. Thus
the intervention categories identified from the 19 exist-
ing frameworks were better conceived of as non-over-
lapping functions: a given intervention may involve
more than one of these. For example, a specific instance
of brief physician advice to reduce alcohol consumption
may involve the three different functions of education,
persuasion, and enablement, whereas another may
involve only one or two of these. With regard to the
policies, it was possible to treat them as non-overlapping
categories.
With this in mind, scrutiny of the frameworks yielded
a set of nine intervention functions and seven policy
categories that were included in at least one framework.
Table 1 lists these and their definitions (their sources
are detailed in Additional file 5). Additional file 6 shows
whether or not the intervention functions and policy
categories were covered by each of the reviewed frame-
works. The inter-rater reliability for coding the frame-
works by intervention functions and policy categories
was 88%.
Additional file 7 shows how existing frameworks met
the criteria of usefulness. It is apparent that no frame-
work covered all the functions and categories and thus
did not meet the criterion of comprehensiveness. Only
three frameworks met the criterion of coherence. Seven
were explicitly linked to an overarching model of
behaviour.
Development of a new framework
Given that policies can only influence behaviour through
the interventions that they enable or support, it seemed
appropriate to place interventions between these and
behaviour. The most parsimonious way of doing this
seemed to be to represent the whole classification sys-
tem in terms of a behaviour change wheel(BCW) with
three layers as shown in Figure 2. This is not a linear
model in that components within the behaviour system
interact with each other as do the functions within the
intervention layer and the categories within the policy
layer.
Having established the structure of the new framework,
the next step was to link the components of the beha-
viour system to the intervention functions and to link
these to policy categories using the approach described
in the Methods section. This led to a framework that met
the third criterion of linkage with an overarching model
of behaviour change (Tables 2 and 3).
Testing the reliability of the new framework
The initial coding of the intervention functions and pol-
icy categories of the 2010 English Tobacco Control
Strategy was achieved with an inter-rater agreement of
88%. The inter-rater agreement for the NICE Obesity
Guidance was 79%. Differences were readily resolved
through discussion (see Additional file 8 for details of
the analysis). The percentage agreement between the
identified components and the gold standardwas 85%
for the implementation lead for the 2010 English gov-
ernment tobacco control strategy in the Department of
Health and 75% for the tobacco researcher.
Discussion
Within 19 frameworks for classifying behaviour change
interventions, nine intervention functions and seven
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policy categories could be discerned. None of the frame-
works covered all of these. Only a minority of the fra-
meworks could be regarded as coherent or linked to an
overarching model of behaviour. However, it was possi-
ble to construct a new BCW framework that did meet
these criteria from the existing ones. This framework
could be reliably applied to classify interventions within
two important areas of public health.
We believe that this is the first attempt to undertake a
systematic analysis of behaviour intervention frame-
works and apply usefulness criteria to them. This is also
the first time that a new framework has been con-
structed from existing frameworks explicitly to over-
come their limitations. Moreover, we are not aware of
other attempts to assess the reliability with which a fra-
mework can be applied in practice.
It must be recognised that there are a near infinite
number of ways of classifying interventions and inter-
vention functions. The one arrived at here will no doubt
be superseded. But for the present, it has the benefits of
having been derived from classifications already available
and therefore covering concepts that have previously
been considered to be important, and using an over-
arching model of behaviour to link interventions to
potential behavioural targets. The most important test
of this framework will be whether it provides a more
Table 1 Definitions of interventions and policies
Interventions Definition Examples
Education Increasing knowledge or understanding Providing information to promote healthy eating
Persuasion Using communication to induce positive or negative feelings or
stimulate action
Using imagery to motivate increases in physical activity
Incentivisation Creating expectation of reward Using prize draws to induce attempts to stop smoking
Coercion Creating expectation of punishment or cost Raising the financial cost to reduce excessive alcohol
consumption
Training Imparting skills Advanced driver training to increase safe driving
Restriction Using rules to reduce the opportunity to engage in the target
behaviour (or to increase the target behaviour by reducing the
opportunity to engage in competing behaviours)
Prohibiting sales of solvents to people under 18 to reduce use
for intoxication
Environmental
restructuring
Changing the physical or social context Providing on-screen prompts for GPs to ask about smoking
behaviour
Modelling Providing an example for people to aspire to or imitate Using TV drama scenes involving safe-sex practices to increase
condom use
Enablement Increasing means/reducing barriers to increase capability or
opportunity
1
Behavioural support for smoking cessation, medication for
cognitive deficits, surgery to reduce obesity, prostheses to
promote physical activity
Policies
Communication/
marketing
Using print, electronic, telephonic or broadcast media Conducting mass media campaigns
Guidelines Creating documents that recommend or mandate practice. This
includes all changes to service provision
Producing and disseminating treatment protocols
Fiscal Using the tax system to reduce or increase the financial cost Increasing duty or increasing anti-smuggling activities
Regulation Establishing rules or principles of behaviour or practice Establishing voluntary agreements on advertising
Legislation Making or changing laws Prohibiting sale or use
Environmental/
social planning
Designing and/or controlling the physical or social environment Using town planning
Service
provision
Delivering a service Establishing support services in workplaces, communities etc.
1
Capability beyond education and training; opportunity beyond environmental restructuring
Figure 2 The Behaviour Change Wheel.
Michie et al.Implementation Science 2011, 6:42
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Page 7 of 11
efficient method of choosing the kinds of intervention
that are likely to be appropriate for a given behavioural
target in a given context and a given population.
Just by identifying all the potential intervention func-
tions and policy categories this framework could prevent
policy makers and intervention designers from neglect-
ing important options. For example, it has been used in
UK parliamentary circles to demonstrate to Members of
Parliament that the current UK Government is ignoring
important evidence-based interventions to change beha-
viour in relation to public health [43,44]. By focusing on
environmental restructuring, some incentivisation and
forms of subtle persuasion to influence behaviour, as
advocated by the popular book Nudge[45], the UK
Government eschews the use of coercion, persuasion, or
the other BCW intervention functions that one might
use.
Although awareness of the full range of interventions
and policies is important for intervention design, the
BCW goes beyond providing this. It forms the basis for
a systematic analysis of how to make the selection of
interventions and policies (as in Tables 2 and 3). Having
selected the intervention function or functions most
likely to be effective in changing a particular target
behaviour, these can then be linked to more fine-grained
specific behaviour change techniques (BCTs). Any one
intervention function is likely to comprise many indivi-
dual BCTs, and the same BCT may serve different inter-
vention functions. An examination of BCTs used in self-
management approaches to increasing physical activity
and healthy eating [46], and in behavioural support for
smoking cessation [47,48], shows that these BCTs serve
five of the intervention functions: education, persuasion,
incentivisation, training, and enablement. The other four
intervention functions (coercion, restriction, environ-
mental restructuring, and modelling) place more empha-
sis on external influences and less on personal agency.
Reliable taxonomies for BCTs within these intervention
functions have yet to be developed.
One of the strengths of this framework is that it
incorporates context very naturally. There is a general
recognition that context is key to the effective design
and implementation of interventions, but it remains
under-theorised and under-investigated. The opportu-
nitycomponent of the behavioural model is the context,
so that behaviour can only be understood in relation to
Table 2 Links between the components of the COM-Bmodel of behaviour and the intervention functions
Model of
behaviour: sources
Education Persuasion Incentivisation Coercion Training Restriction Environmental
restructuring
Modelling Enablement
C-Ph √√
C-Ps √√ √
M-Re √√ √ √
M-Au √√ √ √
O-Ph √√ √
O-So √√ √
1. Physical capability can be achieved through physical skill development which is the focus of training or potentially through enabling interventions such as
medication, surgery or prostheses.
2. Psychological capability can be achieved through imparting knowledge or understanding, training emotional, cognitive and/or behavioural skills or through
enabling interventions such as medication.
3. Reflective motivation can be achieved through increasing knowledge and understanding, eliciting positive (or negative) feelings about behavioural target.
4. Automatic motivation can be achieved through associative learning that elicit positive (or negative) feelings and impulses and counter-impulses relating to the
behavioural target, imitative learning, habit formation or direct influences on automatic motivational processes (e.g., via medication).
5. Physical and social opportunity can be achieved through environmental change.
Table 3 Links between policy categories and intervention functions
Education Persuasion Incentivisation Coercion Training Restriction Environmental
restructuring
Modelling Enablement
Communication/
Marketing
√√ √ √
Guidelines √√ √ √
Fiscal √√√ √
Regulation √√ √ √
Legislation √√ √ √
Environmental/social
planning
√√
Service Provision √√ √ √
Michie et al.Implementation Science 2011, 6:42
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Page 8 of 11
context. Behaviour in context is thus the starting point
of intervention design. The behaviour system also has
automatic processing at its heart, broadening the under-
standing of behaviour beyond the more reflective, sys-
tematic cognitive processes that have been the focus of
much behavioural research in implementation science
and health psychology (for example, social cognition
models such as the Theory of Planned Behaviour).
An existing framework that has made an important
contribution to making intervention design more sys-
tematic is intervention mapping[16]. A key difference
between this and the BCW approach is that intervention
mapping aims to map behaviour on to its theoretical
determinantsin order to identify potential levers for
change, whereas the BCW approach recognises that the
target behaviour can in principle arise from combina-
tions of any of the components of the behaviour system.
It may appear that some components are more impor-
tant than others because of a lack of variance in (includ-
ing absence or universal presence of) the variables
concerned in the population under study. This can be
illustrated by a study of GP advice to smokers, which
found that a single variable degree of concern that it
would harm the doctor-patient relationship accounted
for significant variance in the rate of advice-giving [49].
Intervention mappingwould suggest that concern be
the target for an intervention (as long as a judgement
were made that this could be modified using interven-
tions that were realistically applicable). The BCW would
analyse the target behaviour in context and note that,
regardless of what covariation might currently exist, the
target behaviour consists of an activity in which capabil-
ity is not at issue, and the reflective motivation is
broadly positive. The problem arises because automatic
motivational factors are currently working against the
behaviour (e.g., lack of emotional reward for giving
advice or punishment for not giving it and lack of cues
to action). Moreover, the physical opportunity is limited
(lack of time) and the social opportunities are also
somewhat limited. It would then consider the full range
of ways in which the frequency of advice-giving could
be increased. Because the target behaviour is part of a
system,a single intervention may have consequences
for other parts of the system - these might work against
sustainable change or in favour of it.
Thus, the BCW approach is based on a comprehensive
causal analysis of behaviour and starts with the question:
What conditions internal to individuals and in their
social and physical environment need to be in place for
a specified behavioural target to be achieved?The
intervention mappingapproach is based on an epide-
miological analysis of co-variation within the beha-
vioural domain and starts with the question: What
factors in the present population at the present time
underlie variation in the behavioural parameter?When
it comes to theoretical underpinnings, the BCW
approach draws from a single unifying theory of motiva-
tion in context that predicts what aspects of the motiva-
tional system will need to be influenced in what ways to
achieve a behavioural target, whereas the intervention
mappingapproach draws on a range of theoretical
approaches each of which independently addresses dif-
ferent aspects of the behaviour in question.
The BCW is being developed into a theory- and evi-
dence-based tool allowing a range of users to design
and select interventions and policies according to an
analysis of the nature of the behaviour, the mechanisms
that need to be changed in order to bring about beha-
viour change, and the interventions and policies
required to change those mechanisms. An ongoing pro-
gramme of research is developing an intervention
design toolbased on the BCW. It starts with a theoreti-
cal understanding of behaviour to determine what needs
to change in order for the behavioural target to be
achieved, and what intervention functions are likely to
be effective to bring about that change. It is being field
tested by a range of staff involved in policy and inter-
vention work applying the framework to develop proto-
type strategies for specific implementation targets. Data
are being collected about ease of use and the potential
of the BCW to generate new insights.
There are a number of limitations to the research
described in this paper. First, it is possible that the sys-
tematic review missed important frameworks and/or
intervention functions. Second, judgement is inevitably
involved in conceptualising intervention functions and
policy categories. There are many different ways of
doing this, and no guarantees that the one arrived at
here is optimal. Indeed, different frameworks may be
more or less useful in different circumstances. Third,
even though the proposed framework appears to be
comprehensive and can be used reliably to characterise
interventions, it is possible that it may prove difficult to
use. However, the systematic way in which development
of the BCW has been approached should enable it to
provide a more robust starting point for development of
improved frameworks than has hitherto been possible.
Additional material
Additional file 1: Applying the Behaviour Change Wheel to
characterise intervention strategies: Coding Materials. Behaviour
Change Wheel Coding materials
Additional file 2: Flow of studies through the review process. Flow
of studies through the review process
Additional file 3: Reports excluded from the review. Reports
excluded from the review
Additional file 4: Intervention frameworks. Analysis of intervention
frameworks
Michie et al.Implementation Science 2011, 6:42
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Page 9 of 11
Additional file 5: Sources of definitions of interventions and
policies. Sources of definitions of interventions and policies
Additional file 6: How existing frameworks map on to intervention
and policy categories. How existing frameworks map on to intervention
and policy categories
Additional file 7: Frameworks analysed by criteria of comprehensive
coverage, coherence and link to a model of behaviour. Analysis by
criteria of comprehensive coverage, coherence and link to a model of
behaviour
Additional file 8: BCW classification of the English 2010 Tobacco
Control Strategy and the NICE Obesity Guidelines (2006). BCW
classification of the English 2010 Tobacco Control Strategy and the NICE
Obesity Guidelines (2006)
Acknowledgements
Marie Johnston, University of Aberdeen and Jamie Brown, University College
London, provided astute and helpful comments on an earlier draft of the
paper. Also thanks to Marie Johnston, Queen of acronyms, for COM-B. We
thank Dorien Pieters, Maastricht University, for her work in coding
frameworks into categories to provide a reliability check for data extraction.
Cancer Research UK provided financial support for RW. Matthew West (of
Vasco Graphics) created the artwork.
Author details
1
Research Dept of Clinical, Educational, and Health Psychology, University
College London, 1-19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HB, UK.
2
VU
University Medical Center, EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, Van
der Boechorststraat 7, 1081 BT Amsterdam.
3
Health Behaviour Research
Centre, University College London Epidemiology and Public Health, London,
UK.
Authorscontributions
SM and RW conceived the study, designed the measures, supervised the
systematic review, supervised the analyses and drafted the write-up. MMvS
undertook the systematic review, performed the coding and commented on
the write-up. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
Competing interests
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Received: 4 January 2011 Accepted: 23 April 2011
Published: 23 April 2011
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