I Call it Accountability

Recently the province of British Columbia has tackled an age-old problem through applying proven behavioural and research techniques to change behaviour.  It is no secret and there is no shortage of research from parents, psychologists, therapists, behaviour strategists and teachers that holding a person accountable for their choices leads to changes in behaviour.

To be accountable means to be responsible or answerable to someone for something. It involves taking responsibility for your own actions and being able to explain them.  

We also know that this accountability becomes even more powerful when we are required to be accountable to the people we care most about in our lives (parents, children, spouses, teachers, friends, relatives).

In school, we use this personal accountability to support children in learning new ways of behaving and to encourage them to make more positive choices.  We require them to “own” their behaviour and to answer to the people who care most about them. We illicit an emotional response which is the most powerful factor in determining future behaviour.  We ask them to remember how they felt when….

As adults we can look back on events in our lives, good and bad, and we always remember how we felt.  This has a lasting effect on future choices.  ie. “I am not going to make that mistake again because I don’t want to feel that way again or have to answer to those people again.”

Being held accountable is THE most powerful way to change behaviour.  So why all the backlash in British Columbia?

Selling alcohol to underage children is the problem behaviour the province wants to change.  Holding the sellers accountable to the people they care most about is the way to change this behaviour.  This is how it works, this is the proven way to change behaviour.

The method the province has chosen to hold people accountable for selling alcohol to underage children is to have them post a sign in their store window for 2 weeks that states, “I SELL ALCOHOL TO UNDERAGE CHILDREN.”  This is the right thing to do.  In no uncertain terms, it holds the seller accountable to the people they care about; in this case their customers.  The two-week timeline is also right.  It allows for people to have another chance, to take the sign down and do better.


Funny thing about it, critics don’t like it.  Critics call it shaming.  Critics don’t believe holding people accountable for their choices is what we need to do.  My assumption with this is, critics don’t want this behaviour changed or critics would know this is the right thing to do.

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