The new paper from the Cabinet Office behavioural insights team is an interesting and welcome read.
Looking at how behavioural science can help reduce fraud, error and debt, it sets out seven key lessons and gives details of eight trials that are currently underway. The trials are already yielding some promising results and l hope the lessons learned are rolled out. It would be great to see the trials scaled up to a national level and hear about what didn't work and why. I look forward to seeing a follow-up paper, with the results of these and other trials undertaken mentioned in previous papers.
After reading the paper, I think the team have a job to do to show the difference and added value of behavioural sciences compared to effective communications practice. Although they undoubtedly have potential to increase behavioural compliance, a number of the lessons from behavioural science outlined will be nothing new to a communications professional. Things like ‘highlight key messages’ and ‘use personal language’ are good comms practice and should be considered in any good communications programme. Equally, a number of the trials described – highlighting key messages and norms; using salient images; better presentation of information; personalising text messages; and varying the tone of letters – are examples of making communications more effective.
My other thought was that, like the other papers the team has put out, it primarily focuses on one-off behaviours (you either do something or you don't). It doesn't explore the potential of behavioural sciences to influence more habitual behaviours (such as lack of exercise, drinking too much and not recycling). I worry that behavioural science will get pigeonholed as something that can only be used for one-off behaviour changes. This is not the case – it is part of a tool box that can be used on long term, habitual behavioural issues.
Other social marketing and behaviour change blogs that we read: