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Using COM-B to develop questions to inform a diagnosis

How COM-B can be used to develop questions for surveys or guides for carrying out interviews and focus groups

COM-B can be used to develop questions for surveys or guides for carrying out interviews and focus groups.

Here are some examples of questions that explore each of the COM-B components.

When exploring the potential influence of a COM-B component on behaviour it is useful to start with a general question to explore the relevance of the component (e.g., ‘To what extent is performing this behaviour influenced by other people in the environment’) followed by questions to gather more detailed information about the specific influences (e.g. ‘Tell me more about how peers influence the behaviour’).

Exploring Capability

COM-B recognises that both physical and psychological states may influence behaviour.

Physical Capability represents a person’s abilities to perform the behaviour arising from their physique and bodily functioning. This could include their physical strength, skills and stamina to perform the behaviour.

In interviews and focus groups this can be explored with general questions like:

Does performing this behaviour require any sort of physical strength or skills?

If the answer is yes, then follow-up questions can be asked such as: What sort of physical skills are required? How are these physical skills acquired? Have you been able to acquire these physical skills?

An example survey item relating to Physical Capability is:

On a scale of 1 (not at all) to 10 (completely) to what extent do you have the physical capacity and skills needed for the behaviour?

Psychological Capability represents a person’s ability to perform a behaviour arising from their psychological functioning. This could include the knowledge (e.g. what behaviour is required), cognitive skills (e.g. memory and attention), interpersonal skills (e.g. communication), and self-regulation skills (e.g. goal-setting) to perform the behaviour.

Questions to explore Psychological Capability in interviews and focus groups include:

Does performing this behaviour require any ….

Knowledge? Mental skills? Interpersonal skills? Self-control?

If so, tell me more about how this influences the behaviour for you

A survey item relating to Psychological Capability could be:

On a scale of 1 (no influence) to 10 (strong influence) to what extent does memory and attention influence your performance of the behaviour?

Exploring Opportunity

COM-B recognises that both physical and social opportunity may influence behaviour.

Physical Opportunity represents a person’s opportunity to enact a behaviour that arises from objects and events in their environment, the space they inhabit, the time available or the material and financial resources available to them. This can include things like time, money, resources as well as properties of the physical environment like the degree to which streets are well lit or the amount of green space in an area.

In interviews and focus groups the influence of Physical Opportunity can be explored with general questions like:

How does the physical environment influence performance of this behaviour? Does performing this behaviour require time, money or access to specific resources? To what extent do you feel that you have the necessary resources to perform this behaviour?

An example survey item relating to Physical Opportunity is:

On a scale of 1 (no influence) to 10 (strong influence) to what extent does a person’s financial situation influence performance of behaviour?

Social Opportunity represents a person’s opportunity to enact a behaviour relating to the social world they inhabit, including the rules and norms that are operating and social cues. This might include the ways in which a behaviour is viewed by a person’s peers and the wider community and facilitated by the linguistic and cultural resources within the population

In interviews and focus groups the influence of Social Opportunity can be explored with general questions like:

How does the social environment influence performance of this behaviour? In what ways do other people and the wider community influence performance of this behaviour? Would your peers be supportive of you performing this behaviour?

An example survey item relating to Social Opportunity is:

On a scale of 1 (no influence) to 10 (strong influence) to what extent does peer pressure influence performance of this behaviour?

Exploring Motivation

COM-B recognises that both reflective and automatic motivation may influence behaviour.

Reflective Motivation represents the psychological processes of conscious planning and decision making. It includes plans and intentions to do the behaviour, beliefs about the behaviour and parts of self-identity that might influence performance of the behaviour.

In interviews and focus groups the influence of Reflective Motivation can be explored with general questions like:

How important is it to you to perform this behaviour? Why? How do peoples’ identity and beliefs influence performance of this behaviour?

An example survey item relating to Reflective Motivation is:

On a scale of 1 (no influence) to 10 (strong influence) to what extent does a person’s professional identity influence performance of this behaviour?

Automatic Motivation represents motivation that involves a) responding habitually or instinctively, or b) wants and needs arising from emotions or drives. It includes the ways that emotional reactions, desires (wants and needs), impulses, inhibitions, and habits influence behaviour.

In interviews and focus groups the influence of Automatic Motivation can be explored with general questions like:

How do you feel about performing this behaviour? How might habit influence performance of this behaviour?

An example survey item relating to Automatic Motivation is:

On a scale of 1 (no influence) to 10 (strong influence) to what extent does a person’s existing habits influence performance of this behaviour?

Further examples of questions based on COM-B, that can be adapted for use with different methods, can be found in the additional learning below. These have been taken from our user-friendly guide for national government which is open access.

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