Behavioural insights


EPA Victoria - Using eye-tracking software to evaluate water signage


The quality of sea-water and beach conditions in Port Phillip Bay is monitored by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) Victoria. This information is provided to beach users through the EPA website and social media. However, people often put their health at risk by choosing to engage in water-based activities when water quality is poor.


The EPA partnered with BehaviourWorks Australia (BWA), Lifesaving Victoria and Federation University during the 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2015/16 summer seasons to investigate who, when and how decisions to visit the beach are made, the effectiveness of multiple communication channels on behaviour and the size of exposure risk.

Behavioural insight

This study is consistent with the behavioural insights approach in two ways. First, it established a baseline measure of beach usage before the EPA trialed new ways to improve water safety. Second, it created an evidence base to what motivated unsafe water-based activities and where the EPA might best target its efforts to change behaviour.

The EPA built on these findings by designing and trialing new mechanisms to communicate water quality to beach goers.

Next solution

One trial involved BWA redesigning its signage around Port Phillip beaches to better communicate water quality in real time. BWA drew on literature from psychological and communications research to inform their design of water signage. They adopted a simple, colourful design with minimal text which had been shown across multiple studies to be a highly effective communication technique.

Behavioural insight

A behavioural insights approach was adopted by empirically testing the signage to establish what design was most effective. Using Monash University’s Behavioural Research Laboratory, a series of signs with varying content were tested for their impact on attention paying to content and assimilation of the information contained. An eye-tracking computer captured and measured where study participants looked (and for how long) within the images shown.


Participants did observe the water quality signs in beach environments during laboratory testing, and were able to recall specific information on water quality communicated by the signs. Signs that used symbols (such as smiley faces) were noticed more often than signs that relied on just colour and arrow indicators.

The signage associated with greater attention and recall was rolled out in the summer of 2013/14 across 18 Port Phillip beaches with lifeguards. Research to assess the impact of the beach signage on beach goers’ behaviour showed that while the signs were noticed by over 40% of the sample (as indicated by self-reports), very few people changed their intended behaviour as a result of seeing the sign about water quality, even on fair and poor water quality days.

These findings led to further research into who, when and how decisions to visit the beach are made, which then informed trials into the best methods to communicate water quality to beach-goers, particularly when water quality is poor.

Using Eye-Tracking Software to Evaluate Water Signage