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Many public services undermine self-confidence - how can we support change?

"Self-belief does not necessarily ensure success, but self-disbelief assuredly spawns failure," wrote Albert Bandura in his 1997 magnum opus ‘Self-efficacy: The Exercise of Control’.

At first glance, Bandura’s statement may appear more like it came from a self-help weekend supplement than from a former president of the American Psychological Association.

What makes this statement remarkable is not that it is unexpected, but rather that it is obvious. Problems like obesity, depression, addiction and finding a job all require individuals to take action.

Of course, support to change our diets or prep for job interviews is important, but at the end of the day we decide what we eat and what jobs to go for.

The trouble is this essential truth appears to have been absent in the way most of our public services are designed. They assume if we are told to take our medicines or apply for a job, we will.

In practice, however, we don’t – especially if we don’t believe these actions will make us healthier or lead to a job. Only 30-50 per cent of people take the medication they are prescribed, and interview no-shows are a notorious problem for many Job Centres.

If you don’t believe you can be healthy or employed, it’s incredibly difficult to become healthy or employed

Sadly, at present, many public services undermine rather than develop the self-confidence or self-belief we need.

Bandura identified four sources of the belief necessary to achieve specific goals – what he calls self-efficacy. These are:

  1. Personally experiencing success achieving the goal in question
  2. Persuasion by people you respect that you can achieve your goal
  3. Experiencing others, especially people you identify with, achieving your goal
  4. A positive emotional state when confronted with the goal you want to achieve.

Again these might seem incredibly obvious, but when we contrast these four sources of ‘self-efficacy’ against current service challenges, the limits of existing systems are brought into higher definition.

An example of this was highlighted last year by the Commons Work and Pensions Committee in their report on The future of Jobcentre Plus which highlighted ‘grave concerns’ over Work Coaches in Jobcentre Plus being seen as “policemen… potentially undermining claimant trust and confidence.”

Thankfully there are people offering alternatives, and many of them have been doing so for a long time. The Barnwood Trust has been cultivating the self-efficacy of disabled people and those with mental health problems since 1860.

More recently, the Brightside Trust was set-up to help young people find work through mentoring, and Club Soda was started to help people struggling with alcoholism.

Each of these organisations, and others like them, understand the importance of Bandura’s four sources of self-efficacy. Not only are they providing practical models of how our public services can be dramatically improved, they are often doing so at a much lower cost than the conventional models.

This summer we want to identify the people and organisations across the UK who are helping people take control of their lives

We want to understand their activities better and work out if there’s any support they need to amplify their impact.

At this stage we’re interested in any project that you think may be relevant. This could be working in the areas of unemployment, health, social care, disabilities, addiction services, education or beyond.

Right now we’re doing this through a survey, which we’d hugely appreciate you completing if you work in this area. Or if you don’t, please forward it to people that do. The closing date is Friday 19 May 2017.

We’re also going to be hosting a number of workshops in the summer - please get in touch if you might be interested in taking part.

The information you share will be used to inform a publication of initial findings in Autumn 2017.

Whatever your thoughts on this work – we need to hear from you. Email [email protected] for more information.

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Annie Finnis

Annie Finnis

Annie Finnis

Director of Operations and Impact, Health Lab

Annie is Director of Operations and Impact in the Health Lab at Nesta.

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Rich Wilson

Rich is a Director of the Osca social impact lab. He is a people power specialist who has worked with hundreds of different organisations, big and small, to help them support people ...