Behavioural insights (BI) draws on research into the social, cognitive and emotional behaviour of individuals and institutions. Also known as ‘nudge theory’, it uses subtle triggers to ‘nudge’ people into a desired behaviour or action.
Nudges are not mandates. Putting fruit at eye level counts as a nudge.
Banning junk food does not.
Richard Thaler, Nudge: improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness (2008)
The idea of BI was developed by Richard Thaler in 2008, and in 2010 the UK Prime Minister David Cameron set up the Behavioural Insights Team (or Nudge Unit) in the UK Cabinet Office. Today, more than 60 countries around the world, including Australia, use BI in their policy and communications.
Recently, I attended a seminar on BI, hosted by the Institute of Public Administration Australia and the Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government (BETA). The seminar featured David Halpern, the original director of the UK unit, and heads of nudge units from around the world, including France, Canada and the OECD. It clearly demonstrated that this is an area of growth for many governments and organisations.
The UK Nudge Unit developed a framework for thinking about how to use BI. The ‘EAST’ framework says that, if you want to encourage a behaviour, make it:
Thinking through each of these points can help you to focus your messages and give your information more impact. It can be particularly useful if you want your readers to act or behave in certain ways after reading your content.
Making it easy
- simplifying messages, bringing key messages to the beginning, using simple language and being specific about what is required
- making the desired action the default (getting people to opt out rather than opt in)
- making it easy for people to act, reducing the steps they need to do, or breaking down a complex goal or task into simpler actions.
For example, redesigning prescription forms so doctors had to circle milligrams or micrograms (instead of writing the units out) significantly improved incorrect dose rates. More recently, the UK Government wanted to encourage people to check out their options for superannuation. Sending out large amounts of information had little to no effect. Adding a 1-page summary page that clearly set out what had changed, what their options were and what they should do next increased visits to the relevant website by a factor of 10.
Making it attractive
- attracting attention to key information by using images or colour to get readers to focus on particular points
- making the document personal to the reader by giving examples relevant to them.
For example, adding a red ‘Pay Now’ stamp to fine notices improved payment rates from 14.7% to 17.8% (worth $1.02 million). When letters to nonpayers of UK car tax included a picture of the offending vehicle, payment rates rose from 40% to 49%.
Making it social
- showing that most people perform the desired behaviour
- creating links to other people and relevant groups, and encouraging people to make a commitment to others
- mentioning relevant networks that provide support.
For example, in Australia, BETA and the Department of Health ran a trial to test the impact of personalised letters from Australia’s Chief Medical Officer to GPs prompting them to consider reducing antibiotic prescribing. The most effective letter, which had a graph that compared the GP’s prescribing behaviour to that of their peers, reduced antibiotic prescribing by 12% over 6 months.
Making it timely
- prompting people when they are likely to be most receptive, or including action triggers with other relevant information.
For example, sending a text message to those owing fines 10 days before prosecution doubled the value of payments made, without the need for further intervention. And by including with speeding fines a flyer with the tag ‘No driver means to kill, they were just speeding’ with a photo of a roadside memorial, the UK halved the number of reoffences and the number of prosecutions they needed to pursue.
Biotext uses BI principles to develop content to meet your needs. Our content development and design are informed by international BI research and frameworks, to ensure that your content has the desired effect on your audiences.