Jon Ainger

A Checklist: Is Your Organisation Ready for Behavioural Science?

September 25, 2014



Earlier this week, I wrote a blog setting out my view that the public sector is missing out on many opportunities to deploy behavioural science in morally sound, appropriate ways to help them deal with the rising tide of demand, and save money.

It seems that often these opportunities are being missed because of some common barriers in public sector organisations. As a contribution to the debate, I’ve turned these barriers into a simple checklist for a Chief Executive to test whether her team, and her organisation, is ready to embrace these opportunities.

Take the test below.

The Chief Executive Checklist

The conceptual bit:

Would your senior Director team agree with the following statements?

  • Behaviour is not ‘fluffy stuff’ – it’s often the difference between success and failure in delivering transformation.
  • Human behaviours can be changed using scientifically proven and repeatable approaches.
  • It is appropriate for the public sector to seek to change the behaviour of people if this will lead to better outcomes for them and for the taxpayer.

If you’re scoring 3 out of 3 at this stage, this is a good start.  If not, you may struggle to get projects off the ground in services, because your Directors may block or stall them.  Overcoming these barriers is a process of education, demonstrator projects, and testimony from your own staff at Board level.

The incentives bit:

Would an external observer agree with the following statements about your organisation?

  • At budget setting time, my directors and managers are not asked ‘how can you cut your budget by 25%’, but instead are asked ‘how can you reduce demand for your service by 25%’.
  • My Director of Finance actively encourages (and can provide invest to save funds for) the testing of behavioural science approaches for reducing demand and costs.
  • A typical manager in my organisation has clear personal incentives to seek creative ways to reduce demand for their service and be rewarded (not necessarily financially) for their efforts.

If you’re scoring 3 out of 3 here, you’re ahead of the pack. Many organisations will bemoan the lack of creativity of their managers; but often they aren’t acknowledging honestly that natural system incentives are precisely in the opposite direction. In fact, if creative activity happens it may be despite the system rather than because of it.

The practical bit:

Do you have the following in place?

  • Staff in this organisation are aware of evidence for and examples of effective deployment of behavioural science interventions in reducing demand for public services.
  • My organisation has access to skills and experience to help it design and deliver behavioural science-based interventions.
  • My organisation is well set-up to measure the impact of behavioural science interventions, to share the learning arising from them, and to roll out successful interventions.

If you’re scoring 3 out of 3 here, then you’ve gone beyond most organisations in the public sector, and should be well on the way to success with behavioural science. If you aren’t, the good news is that each of these things is straightforward to fix. But for it to be worth doing, you first need to be able to tick off the Conceptual Bit, and the Incentives Bit.

Tweet us @impowerconsult with your scores out of 9.

image via photopin

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