Behavioral Insights: Finding What Works


Behavioral science has proven that subtle choices in framing a message can have a significant impact on outcomes and can dramatically improve transactions.

The UK and other nations have begun to aggressively use behavioral insights to make subtle but meaningful changes in the delivery of government services. Their rapid iteration testing and experiments have the potential to transform policies and markets on a massive scale. Their conclusion in a nutshell… everything matters.

In Richard Thayer and Cass Sunstein’s book, Nudge, the authors make reference to ‘choice architects,’ those who organize the context in which people make choices. Doctors, teachers, designers, parents and others control the way we perceive things by virtue of the manner in which choices are presented.

At the low end of the pyramid are the simple transactional improvements that reduce errors and increase participation levels. But, this is just the beginning.

David Halpern, leader of the UK’s behavioral Insights Team (BIT), recently spoke at the Behavioral Exchange Conference in Sydney (BX2014). In his address, he offers evidence that translating behavioral insights into policy improvements and design can be applied to improving education, reducing crime, and improving wellbeing. These tests are now being taken more seriously, and by more nations.

Key drivers of behavioral change include reciprocity, social norms, ease of use, attractiveness, and timeliness. Utilizing people’s natural tendencies, capacities, and design makes us think about markets and policies in different ways.

How many ineffective laws and policies exist because they run counter to human nature? How many policy documents are ignored because the way the information is presented runs counter to human intuition?

In the US, Dr. Maya Shankar, Cognitive Neuroscientist and deputy director at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and her BIT are working diligently to get US officials to understand the value of behavioral sciences and support testing to improve outcomes on a broad range of policy issues.

When you consider that currently, the UK spends less than half of one percent of the healthcare budget on behavioral science, you begin to understand the enormous potential upside… and possibly the missing ingredient to transforming, among other things, our whole healthcare system.

Here is additional information, including a video of David Halpern’s address during the Behavioral Exchange Conference in Sydney.