Module code: PSYM159

Module Overview

This module seeks to contextualise behaviour change science, policy and practice. Students are introduced to the philosophical and ideological assumptions underpinning behaviour change science and practice, and the political context that shapes how behaviour change strategies are designed, implemented and evaluated among the general public. It also introduces students to the process of policy-making and explores how and to what extent previous policy initiatives have drawn on behavioural science theories and evidence, and external influences, such as the political environment, that can cause such initiatives to deviate from theory or evidence. The module helps students to recognise the tacit assumptions that are made when attempting to change behaviour ‘for the greater good’, and the challenges and counterarguments that often limit the acceptability, feasibility or effectiveness of implementing behaviour change strategies in real-world settings. An overarching purpose of the module is to encourage students to move outside of the academic context and see the ‘bigger picture’ regarding the role of behavioural science and practice for tackling pressing problems in modern societies.

Module provider


Module Leader

GARDNER Benjamin (Psychology)

Number of Credits: 15

ECTS Credits: 7.5

Framework: FHEQ Level 7

Module cap (Maximum number of students): N/A

Overall student workload

Independent Learning Hours: 106

Seminar Hours: 22

Guided Learning: 11

Captured Content: 11

Module Availability

Semester 2

Prerequisites / Co-requisites


Module content

Indicative content includes:


  • Disciplinary assumptions regarding the meaning and nature of behaviour and behaviour change

  • Philosophical and ideological assumptions underpinning dominant approaches to behaviour change

  • The politics of behaviour change

  • An introduction to the policy-making process

  • Translating evidence into policy

  • Influences on policy-making

  • Risk governance, risk perception and risk communication

  • ‘Nudging’ as a politically feasible behaviour change strategy

  • Fear appeals – an evidence-free risk communication?

  • The ‘nanny-state’ and the ‘health fascists’: public resistance to behaviour change

  • Developing, implementing and evaluating policy

Assessment pattern

Assessment type Unit of assessment Weighting
Coursework Policy briefing 65
Coursework Critical reflection essay 35

Alternative Assessment


Assessment Strategy

The assessment strategy is designed to provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate their awareness of the social, political and cultural contexts that frame the design, implementation and evaluation of behaviour change policies and initiatives. Summative assessment for the module consists of two coursework pieces:


  • a policy briefing, in which students draw on behaviour change theory and evidence, and demonstrate their awareness of the social, political and cultural contexts surrounding policy-making, by offering credible, evidence-based recommendations to policymakers regarding why and how to address a pertinent behaviour change issue among the general public. (This assignment addresses learning outcomes 2-4.)

  • a critical reflection essay. This builds on a formative, group-based assessment in which students work in groups to design an evidence-based risk communication strategy to change a given behaviour. The essay is an individual written piece in which students critically reflect on how they drew on the module content to inform the risk communication strategy set out in a poster that they design in groups. Note that the group poster itself is not part of this summative assessment. (This assignment addresses learning outcomes 1-5.)


Formative feedback:

Lecture-based seminars and discussions focus on the application of lecture content to real-world policy development, and through these, students will receive verbal feedback on their emergent ideas on both assignments from peers and teaching staff.


Students also complete a formative group-based task. Problem-solving workshops on the module provide students with the opportunity to generate and discuss, in their groups, ideas for their risk communication assignment with their peers. They receive verbal feedback from peers and written formative feedback from teaching staff on a presentation of the group poster. This feedback is intended to be used by students to inform their critical reflection assignment.

Module aims

  • To develop critical awareness of philosophical and ideological assumptions underpinning the scientific study of human behaviour and attempts to change behaviour in real-world settings
  • To develop understanding of the process through which behaviour change policy is designed, implemented and evaluated in practice, and the role of behavioural science in influencing this process and creating impact
  • To develop understanding of dominant frameworks informing current policy development, such as risk management and ¿nudge¿ approaches
  • To develop awareness of the role of social, political, and cultural factors in the policy-making process, and how these may affect the translation of behavioural science insights into policy or practice
  • To equip students with the skills to anticipate, reflect on and constructively engage with potential social, political, and cultural factors that may challenge the feasibility or acceptability of an evidence-based behaviour change intervention

Learning outcomes

Attributes Developed
001 Develop critical awareness and understanding of the philosophical and ideological assumptions underpinning dominant frameworks for understanding and changing human behaviour CKP
002 Understand and engage with the process through which behaviour change theory and evidence is translated into behaviour change policy CKP
003 Formulate a real-world behaviour-related policy problem and critically evaluate evidence regarding how behaviour might feasibly be changed to address that problem CKPT
004 Develop a coherent evidence-based behaviour change policy strategy that recognises and engages with potential social, political, and cultural influences that may shape the implementation, acceptability or effectiveness of that strategy CKPT
005 Reflect on the application, value and meaning of behavioural science theory and practice in social, political and cultural contexts CKPT

Attributes Developed

C - Cognitive/analytical

K - Subject knowledge

T - Transferable skills

P - Professional/Practical skills

Methods of Teaching / Learning

The learning and teaching strategy includes a combination of lecture-based seminars and teacher- and student-led discussions and small group problem-solving workshops. Lecture-based seminars and discussions support students to understand and critically engage with the key concepts, and workshops encourage students to work together to develop and evaluate novel evidence-based behaviour change strategies, and receive peer feedback on their ideas.

Indicated Lecture Hours (which may also include seminars, tutorials, workshops and other contact time) are approximate and may include in-class tests where one or more of these are an assessment on the module. In-class tests are scheduled/organised separately to taught content and will be published on to student personal timetables, where they apply to taken modules, as soon as they are finalised by central administration. This will usually be after the initial publication of the teaching timetable for the relevant semester.

Reading list
Upon accessing the reading list, please search for the module using the module code: PSYM159

Other information

The School of Psychology is committed to developing graduates with strengths in Employability, Digital Capabilities, Global and Cultural Capabilities, Sustainability, and Resourcefulness and Resilience. This module contributes to the development of the following capabilities:


Employability: By exploring the fundamental assumptions underlying behaviour change policy and practice, this module encourages students to recognise and critically engage their own often-implicit assumptions that shape their communication with other people. Being able to reflect on and question one’s own assumptions is a key skill for employers, and is needed to ensure agile adaptation to the changing nature of work. The module also trains students in transferrable skills, such as: working independently; collaborating flexibly with others in small groups; synthesising and applying theory and evidence to real-world problem-based settings, to develop understanding of a problem, and generate potential solutions; and critically reflecting on their work.


Digital Capabilities: This module encourages students to critically reflect on how digital technology has been and can be used to shape, deliver and evaluate the effectiveness of behaviour change policy. Students must engage with multiple digital skills throughout the module, such as using: the University’s Virtual Learning Environment (SurreyLearn) to access course materials and key content; online search engines to identify appropriate sources for their assignments; and software for appropriate communication and presentation of ideas (e.g., Word, PowerPoint, Prezi).


Global and Cultural Capabilities: Global and cultural contexts are key to this module. The module is designed to highlight the sociocultural factors underlying behaviour change policy and practice in Western contexts, and to recognise that these factors may not generalise to other cultural contexts. The module encourages students to consider the sociocultural factors that shape behaviour change initiatives and responses to them, and in so doing, supports students to adopt a more overarching, global perspective on behaviour change.


Resourcefulness and Resilience: The module develops resourcefulness through the opportunity given in both assignments to decide which theories and evidence to draw on to help formulate, understand and address a policy problem. Students must work equally well independently and in small groups, which requires them to apply skills of collaboration, social influence and co-creation. Students are supported to develop resilience in multiple ways. The module encourages students to reflect on the fundamental assumptions that underpin their own attitudes, beliefs and values regarding behaviour change policy and practice, and students must show resilience to resolve any tensions that may arise from confronting these assumptions. Students also demonstrate and apply resilience to revise their work, and potentially adapt their thinking, in light of formative feedback from teaching staff and their peers. Together, these activities should instil students’ confidence in their own abilities, and their beliefs and values.


Sustainability: Promotion of sustainability is central to this module. The module focuses on understanding and addressing the pressing global challenges of our era, which are the focus of current policy making. Assignment topics have been chosen based on their links to UN Sustainable Development Goals. For the policy briefing assignment, for example, students can choose to focus on problems such as reducing food waste (which relates to the Responsible Consumption and Production goal, and the Zero Hunger goal), water conservation (which relates to Responsible Consumption and Production, and has indirect links to the Life Below Water goal), and reducing meat consumption (which relates to Responsible Consumption and Production, and Life On Land goals). The risk communication assignment focuses on encouraging uptake of vaccines, which speaks to the Good Health and Well-Being SDG. Students are encouraged to tackle these assignments from the perspective of diverse target audiences, including those that may be distrusting of behaviour change policy or policymakers.

Please note that the information detailed within this record is accurate at the time of publishing and may be subject to change. This record contains information for the most up to date version of the programme / module for the 2024/5 academic year.