Archive for September, 2011

Cabinet Office Behavioural Insight Team sets out its work

September 16, 2011

Yesterday the Cabinet Office Behavioural Insight Team published the first full report of its work since it was set up in July 2010.

It usefully sets out examples of how behavioural insights have been applied within government and public policy over the past year:

  • Organ donation – introducing a ‘required choice’ for vehicle licence applicants from 31 July. It is estimated that this will more than double the percentage of people joining the organ donation register and bring an extra 1 million donors over the course of the Parliament.
  • Healthier food – salt in pre-prepared food is to be reduced by 15% on 2010 targets (or 1g per person a day compared with 2007 levels) as part of a voluntary agreement with industry. It is estimated that this will save around 4,500 lives a year.
  • Consumer empowerment – giving consumers access to data held about them in electronic format by firms. This programme, known as ‘mydata’, is likely to revolutionise the relationship between consumers and firms, overcoming a host of behavioural biases.
  • Tax – changing letters to explain that most people in their local area had already paid their taxes boosted repayment rates by around 15 percentage points. If rolled out nationally, this would free up collector resource capable of generating £30 million of extra revenue annually and would advance over £160 million of cash flow by around six weeks each year.
  • Environment – we have redesigned Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs). From 2012, the EPCs will tell people how costly it will be to heat a home they are buying, and will help 1.4 million households to make their homes more energy efficient, saving them money in the process.

Much of this is set out in more detail in a number of significant reports for Government Departments covering Health, Energy Use and Consumer Power.

In addition, the Team also provided advice on a range of other policy areas, including:

In terms of future work the report says:

Priorities for the coming year are likely to include developing innovative alternative solutions as part of the Red Tape Challenge; implementing trials to reduce public sector fraud, debt and error; and pushing forward work to reduce common crimes such as mobile phone theft. We will also continue to examine aspects of health, including how to radically reduce harms from smoking, and will commence work on higher education.

The report is an excellent checklist of key issues around pro-social behaviour change in public policy and thus well worth reading. Let me give two examples that intrigued me:

  • Page 17 – Research in the US has found that signatures and declarations of honesty are significantly more effective if placed at the beginning of a form than at the end
  • Page 19 – Experiments have been conducted to show how specific configurations of contextual cues can give rise to different levels of disclosure in online situations. For example, some findings have counterintuitively shown that people are more likely to disclose sensitive information to websites perceived to be less secure – more secure websites were more likely to trigger privacy concerns. These findings go against previous privacy research based on the assumption of rational choice.

It also sets out the argument for new ways of working which we at TCC have been arguing for over a number of years:

  • A new set of policy tools. As we have seen, behavioural insights bring in their wake a new set of policy tools. 
  • A new approach to partnerships with business and public service professionals. We have found that the use of behavioural insights has often brought with it the necessity to work closely with business – and public service professionals – who are often much better placed to affect behaviour than civil servants working in Whitehall. This has led to the ‘spin-out’ of the new Partnerships Team in the Cabinet Office, with whom we look forward to working closely in the coming year. 
  • Reforming government communications. Behavioural approaches rest heavily on public ownership and acceptability. This implies a far more dynamic form of communication between government and the public – a constant seeking of permission – and in particular a shift away from the traditional notion of ‘broadcast communication’ that has traditionally characterised government communications. Government also needs to be smarter in how it uses its digital and real estate, not least to harness what Tom Steinberg has called the ‘school gates’ phenomenon – the power of real and virtual spaces that bring citizens, and sometimes professionals, together.

We particularly agree with the final point that there has to be a far more dynamic form of communication and believe that this has to be drawn from greater research insight into communities including the varied values they hold, in order for communications to be effective.

The Government also issued its response to the House of Lords report on Behaviour Change which we have previously commented on. The media coverage focused on the concept of Nudging, which is a narrow approach if used on its own, when there are many other forms of intervention. However the Government response rightly accepted the points made by the House of Lords saying:

  • We agree with the Committee‘s central finding that nudges, used in isolation, are likely to be less effective than using a range of interventions. We believe, however, that it is useful and important to consider how to apply behavioural insights as one of several tools which Government has at its disposal.
  • We agree that it is of critical important to ensure that behavioural interventions are properly evaluated, and we are focusing increasingly on this area. The recently published Open Public Services White Paper envisages the establishment of accreditation bodies capable of playing this role, and the work of the Behavioural Insights Team increasingly focuses on the establishment of controlled trials to determine the effectiveness of interventions.

This blog, along with others, has often argued that Nudges have to be nested in a wider range of behavioural interventions which include a mix of both operational delivery and strategic policy change drawn from well-established social marketing approaches.

Perhaps the biggest problem at present is the narrow way the media perceives all of this? In the following year perhaps the Behavioural Insight Team should not just be embedding new approaches with senior civil servants, but also engaging much more with frontline staff delivering interventions as well as explaining the wide choice of approaches in more detail to journalists and others communicating on the subject within wider social media?

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for The Campaign Company. If you want to see what your own primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here.

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Social Mobility and Child Poverty – Cabinet Office Call for Evidence

September 9, 2011

The Cabinet Office has issued a Call for Evidence on the issue of Social Mobility and Child Poverty. This is in advance of the establishment of a statutory Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. The Commission will be issuing its first report to Parliament in Spring next year. That report will also take into account of the evidence collected for:

The Call for Evidence will also help inform the Commission’s first report. It aims to explore questions around how child poverty and social mobility are linked, and the examples of how projects can be set up and expanded and progress measured on these issues. The questions are:

  • What do you think are the links between social mobility and child poverty?
  • What are the main barriers which stop people moving out of poverty or which prevent people from slipping into poverty?
  • Do you think the Government’s policies, in particular the social mobility and child poverty strategies, will improve people’s life chances?
  • Are there other policies that could be implemented for the same cost which would ensure that all citizens have the same opportunities?
  • How can we create the right mix of practical and financial support to ensure that all people have opportunities to get on in life?
  • What are the best examples of projects which have brought about real progress in creating a fairer, more mobile society?
  • What are the best examples of where effective projects have been expanded and best practice shared with other areas or organisations?
  • What more should businesses, civil society and other non-government institutions be doing to improve social mobility and tackle child poverty?
  • What would be the best way to measure progress on social mobility and child poverty?
  • Do you think the indicators set out in the child poverty strategy and social mobility strategy are the right measures?

TCC have previously blogged on the Government’s social mobility review. In addition more recent postings on unevenly distributed levels of self-efficacy and the barriers to changing that have expanded on how interventions will need to be more sophisticated and go beyond providing resources to deliver a service and expecting people to automatically respond to it. In future the barriers to motivation to take part will require much more targeted activity at a local level. Understanding the social networks and values that hold back communities and the individuals within them will also need to be understood more before pro-social behavioural interventions can be delivered.

The closing date for the current Call for Evidence is 16 October, so there is plenty of time for those who wish to contribute to this important issue.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for The Campaign Company. If you want to see what your own primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here.

Guest Blog by Mark Wall: Words, Society and Change

September 5, 2011

How do we make judgments about the development of our zeitgeist?  There are various ways to measure how society is changing.  One way, perhaps not totally scientific but certainly very British, is a close examination of the development of the concise Oxford English Dictionary.  Every year Oxford University Press produces a list of words or phrases that they now consider to be sufficiently embedded in our vernacular to merit a dictionary entry. Words that are in regular usage; accepted as concepts we all need to understand and use.  This year’s list is as fascinating as ever.

We can now recognise a “person who refuses to admit the truth of a concept or proposition that is supported by the majority of scientific or historical evidence” as a denialist, and “a woman with exceptional domestic skills, especially cookery” as a domestic goddess.

The latter may be involved in “food that is carefully produced or prepared in accordance with local culinary traditions” or slow food, and if we enjoy that we will all respond with a woot used, of course,  to “express elation, enthusiasm, or triumph” (although perhaps not recommended for anyone of middle age or above). And if we all go too far and become obese we will be able to ask for “a silicone device placed around the upper section of the stomach to restrict the amount of food that can be comfortably eaten” or a gastric band.

What does all this tell us?  Fashion has changed, medicine has changed, communication has changed.  But have we?

Well perhaps not as much as we’d like to.  In the very first edition of the OED, published 100 years ago in 1911, poverty was still a recognised word, as was virus.  The concepts have changed, the understanding has developed, but the problems not solved.

And what else has gone?  Well, in the 1911 version there was a growlery, defined as “place to growl in, private room, den”.

First used by Dickens in “Bleak House”, growlery  was the place Mr Jarndyce  went when he was “out of humour” and needed a safe place; a retreat for times of ill humour. The advantage was that you could put anything you like in the growlery; fill it with things that made you feel better when life was too much.  A room to look after yourself, process your negative thoughts, and re-energise.

Sounds good.  And it is telling that the word no longer exists and has no obvious replacement

We could do with some today, as the possible modern equivalents – pubs, gyms, churches – all have their own rules and so limitations.  Would a growlery help community tension, personal angst and reduce our stress levels?  Maybe popping into such a place on the way home would benefit our personal relationships and ensure we don’t explode inappropriately in the wrong place.

So, I’m a big fan of the domestic goddess, and am relieved that we now have an accepted concept to challenge the denialists of the world.  But it’s not all progress and I’d like to announce my campaign for the return of the growlery.  It sounds far more manly than a chill-out zone. Join me, but don’t moan if we get it wrong.

Mark Wall is Director of Mark Wall Communications and an Associate at The Campaign Company and can be followed on Twitter @markwallcomms. He writes for TCC on a range of Communications issues. If you want to see what your primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here.