Theories and Techniques of Behaviour Change Project

Developing and testing a methodology for linking behaviour change techniques to mechanisms of action

Principal Investigator
Professor Susan Michie, UCL
Co-Investigators Professor Marie Johnston (University of Aberdeen), Professor Alex Rothman (University of Minnesota and National Cancer Institute, USA), Professor Mike Kelly (NICE), Professor Marijn de Bruin (University of Aberdeen)
UCL team members
Dr Rachel Carey, Dr Lauren Connell, Hilary Groarke
UK Medical Research Council - Methodology Research Programme
Project start and end dates
March 2014 - August 2017
Project website

Coming soon - new resource for the behaviour change community

We will soon be launching the Theories and Techniques of Behaviour Change Heat Map tool - our interactive resource which provides easy access to information about the links between behaviour change techniques and their mechanisms of action.  



The effectiveness of behaviour change interventions depends on good understanding of the links between behaviour change techniques (BCTs) and their mechanisms of action i.e. the processes through which they affect behaviour. Considerable progress has been made in developing a method for specifying BCTs. The aim of this research is to develop and test a methodology for linking BCTs to their mechanisms of action. 


Study 1: To synthesise evidence of links between 93 BCTs (from the 93-item BCT taxonomy, BCTTv1) and their mechanisms of action, data will be extracted from published intervention papers. The frequency, explicitness and precision with which each BCT is linked by authors to each mechanism will be reported.

Study 2: Behaviour change experts will identify links between BCTs and mechanisms of action in a formal consensus development study. They will be asked about 26 mechanisms, 12 frequently occurring in theories of behaviour change and 14 from the Theoretical Domains Framework. The data from Studies 1 and 2 will generate matrices of links between BCTs and mechanisms.

Study 3: Agreement between the matrices from Studies 1 and 2 will be evaluated. A new group of experts will be consulted to discuss and resolve discrepancies. An integrated matrix of BCT-mechanism links, annotated to indicate strength of evidence, will be generated.

Study 4: To identify whether groups of co-occurring BCTs can be linked to theories, groups of two or more BCTs that work together (i.e. BCT ‘clusters’) will be identified from the Study 1 literature corpus. A consensus exercise will be used to rate strength of links between BCT clusters and theories, generating a matrix of links between BCT clusters and theories.


The development of a formal methodology for linking BCTs to mechanisms of action has the potential to make a substantial contribution to the development and evaluation of behaviour change interventions. This research is a step towards developing an ‘ontology’ of behaviour change that specifies the relations between BCTs, theoretical mechanisms, modes of delivery, population, setting and type of behaviour.