Digitalized implementation intention to effectively bridge the intention-action gap


We often witness a large gap between our intentions and our actions: we may want to act in a certain way, know that we should act in a certain way, and yet we do not change our behavior.
The intention-action gap is, in fact, a major research topic in the field of behavioral science: several strategies are being studied to bridge this gap. Among them, "implementation intention" offers convincing results and interesting perspectives.

# What is ‘implementation intention’?

Let's start by defining this concept. Introduced by Peter Gollwitzer in 1999, implementation intention is a strategy for habit building and behavior change. It consists of a simple plan: "If situation A, then I will demonstrate behavior A". Thus, it is not the wording of an intention per se ("I want to do this"), but the formulation of the plan for its implementation (the “where”, the “when”, the “how”). In his research, Gollwitzer shows that the use of this strategy increases the likelihood that an individual will achieve his or her goal of taking action, provided that the established plan is precise and detailed enough.

This mechanism aims to help an individual move from intention to action, thus, it is a nudge in the terms of Thaler and Sunstein. Moreover, this nudge has this particularity of being self-directed: an individual setting up an implementation intention nudges one’s self to take action. The objective here is to create an automatic cognitive answer: "If situation A, then I demonstrate behavior A".

To better understand how this nudge works, let's go back to BJ Fogg's behavior model (Behavior = Motivation + Ability + Prompt). Implementation intention acts as a trigger for taking action (prompt), the other two factors being ensured by other means: we can indeed consider that the motivation factor is guaranteed by the very fact of using this strategy to actually take action; as for self-efficacy (ability), it is ensured in theory by the anticipated visualization (mental image) of the carrying out of the action (research is currently underway to test this hypothesis).

# Why digitize implementation intention?

Digitizing implementation intention involves two things: 

  • First, it is necessary to help the individual formalize the "If Situation A, then Behavior A" plan via a digital tool.
    It means helping the individual to identify precisely where to demonstrate the behavior, when to demonstrate the behavior and how to demonstrate it, by suggesting, for example, to perform a precise action in a precise context: "At the next meeting I lead, I start by reminding the objectives";
  • It is then a matter of helping the individual to recognize the occurrence of "Situation A", thus helping them to automatically trigger the desired behavior.
    It is possible, for instance, to suggest that an individual receive an SMS or a reminder at a judicious time: it will help them to more easily identify the appropriate situation in order to trigger the desired behavior (e.g. “5 minutes before the beginning of a meeting”).

This is what Fifty offers in its eDoing solution. 

As the eDoing pioneer, Fifty offers a digitized approach of implementation intention to help its clients' employees bridge the intention-action gap in training and transformations: 

  • Through specific features, Fifty’s product allows employees, after choosing a behavior to anchor, to define when, where and how they want to implement it;
  • The product also offers reminders to help them "keep in mind" the context that should trigger the desired behavior. However, these are active reminders, and not passive ones. What is the difference? An active reminder is deliberately chosen by the employee for a given situation (such behavior to be tested in such meeting), on a given channel (SMS, calendar invitation, smartphone notification...) at a given time. It is much more efficient than a passive reminder that is triggered in a predefined way, identical for all, with a recurring pattern, that one ends up ignoring quickly because it loses its meaning.

These features were developed by Fifty's R&D team in behavioral science. They ensure the relevance of Fifty's scientific approach and make regular adjustments to the product based on the latest research results.

By digitizing the implementation intention in its eDoing product, Fifty is now able to triple the rate of training and transformation implementation for its clients.

Fifty's R&D team is pursuing its research effort to identify levers to further strengthen the effectiveness of digitalized implementation intention, and is regularly published. You can find here their latest publication.