Behavioural change and culture change


The highest goal of a National Water Safety Plan is to influence the behaviour and culture at the root of the drowning issue across a population, to reduce the national drowning burden. This type of change considers the complexities of human nature and deeply embedded thought patterns or habits.  For a water safety plan to be successful in meeting and sustaining this ultimate objective, the target population, or beneficiaries, need to be empowered. Empowerment is fundamental to behaviour change at an individual level, which in turn becomes culture change at a collective level. Empowerment means that individuals in a target population have internalised knowledge they receive about drowning prevention and water safety, realizing their ability to affect change to prevent drowning cases and thus have an increased sense of control. This results in greater motivation and confidence to make the changes necessary to reduce drowning on a national level, and improve the health and wellbeing of the wider population.   

To evaluate behavioural and culture change, an understanding of the cultural norms and cultural barriers to change is required. There are numerous frameworks for understanding behaviour change. An example is the Behaviour Change Wheel. This framework is comprehensive as it considers multiple sources of behaviours, intervention functions and policy categories.   


  • Aiming to promote behavioural change and cultural change through the implementation of National Water Safety Plan addresses the root of the drowning issue, leading to sustained water safety plan impact after the conclusion of plan implementation.  
  • Applying a behavioural change framework for water safety plan development can help select appropriate interventions to include as part of the plan, which consider context-specific cultural norms. 


  • It can be difficult to evaluate behavioural change and cultural change due their abstract and broad nature. 
  • Evaluation may require costly and time-consuming data collection. 
  • Results can often be biased as perceptions and judgements are formed by differing world-views.  
  • To ensure validity, a control group (a group that did not receive exposure to interventions offered as part of the water safety plan) is required to form comparisons. 
  • Contaminating or confounding factors can make it hard to attribute observed changes to a  water safety plan.  


An analysis of cultural norms and barriers to change should be carried out during the development of a National Water Safety Plan, prior to its implementation, enabling evaluation to be more accurate.