The Behaviourally Informed Organization

Book by Dilip Soman and Catherine Yeung: “…This edited volume represents the first output from this international partnership. The book is designed to reflect our conceptual thinking, outline some early results from the partnership and an agenda for research and practice, and provide roadmaps to help both practitioners and academics converge in the common quest of developing behaviorally informed organizations. The book is divided into four parts.

In Part 1, “The Behaviorally Informed Organization,” four chapters lay out an agenda for what such an organization should be and could be. In chapter 1, Soman talks about the science of using behavioral science by developing a brief history of the field of behavioral science, outlining organizational realities, and generating a research agenda to help develop BIOrgs. In chapter 2, Feng and colleagues further develop an understanding of organizational realities and outline what resources and capabilities organizations need to develop in order to be truly behaviorally informed. In particular, they develop the notion of the cost of experimentation and make the point that driving down the cost of experimentation is key in developing behaviorally informed organizations. In chapter 3, Vinski asks and answers the question, “Why should organizations even want to be behaviorally informed?”; and in chapter 4, O’Malley and Peters add to that question by further addressing why organizations might actively resist the need to be behaviorally informed.
Organizational settings provide existing tools and also additional complexities, and in Part 2, “Overarching Insights and Tools,” four chapters address some of these organizational realities. Chapter 5 talks about “sludge” – small aspects of an organizationally created context that create impedance for end-users. If sludge is not cleared, the effectiveness of behavioral interventions will be constrained, and hence this chapter makes a case for identifying and eliminating sludge. In chapter 6, Duncan and colleagues provide a
guide to writing guidelines, an important tool for most policymakers and businesses as they attempt to provide helpful information to their citizens and customers. Given that organizations have multiple interactions for multiple products and services with their endusers, a binary classification into econs and humans is not feasible or helpful. Therefore, in chapter 7, Ireland talks about the boundedly rational complex consumer continuum, a nuanced framework for segmenting recipients of behavioral interventions. Given that endusers are inundated with information and other types of stimulus from organizations, it is unclear that they will attend to it all. In chapter 8, Hilchey and Taylor write about the psychology of attention and its implications for helping end-users make better decisions….(More)”.

Revenge of the Experts: Will COVID-19 Renew or Diminish Public Trust in Science?

Paper by Barry Eichengreen, Cevat Aksoy and Orkun Saka: “It is sometimes said that an effect of the COVID-19 pandemic will be heightened appreciation of the importance of scientific research and expertise. We test this hypothesis by examining how exposure to previous epidemics affected trust in science and scientists. Building on the “impressionable years hypothesis” that attitudes are durably formed during the ages 18 to 25, we focus on individuals exposed to epidemics in their country of residence at this particular stage of the life course. Combining data from a 2018 Wellcome Trust survey of more than 75,000 individuals in 138 countries with data on global epidemics since 1970, we show that such exposure has no impact on views of science as an endeavor but that it significantly reduces trust in scientists and in the benefits of their work. We also illustrate that the decline in trust is driven by the individuals with little previous training in science subjects. Finally, our evidence suggests that epidemic-induced distrust translates into lower compliance with health-related policies in the form of negative views towards vaccines and lower rates of child vaccination….(More)”.

Nudging at scale: Experimental evidence from FAFSA completion campaigns

Paper by Kelli A. Bird et al: “Do successful local nudge interventions maintain efficacy when scaled state or nationwide? We investigate, through two randomized controlled trials, the impact of a national and state-level campaign encouraging students to apply for financial aid for college. The campaigns collectively reached over 800,000 students, with multiple treatment arms patterned after prior local interventions in order to explore potential mechanisms. We find no impacts on aid receipt or college enrollment overall or for any subgroups. We find no evidence that different approaches to message framing, delivery, or timing, or access to one-on-one advising affected campaign efficacy. We discuss why nudge strategies that work locally may be hard to scale effectively….(More)”.

How Elvis Got Americans to Accept the Polio Vaccine

Hal Hershfield and Ilana Brody at Scientific American: “Campaigns to change behavior thrive on three factors: social influence, social norms and vivid examples…In late 1956, Elvis Presley was on the precipice of global stardom. “Heartbreak Hotel” had reached number one on the charts earlier that year and Love Me Tender, his debut film,would be released in November. In the midst of this trajectory, he was booked as a guest on the most popular TV show at the time, The Ed Sullivan Show. But he wasn’t only there to perform his hits. Before the show started, and in front of the press and Ed Sullivan himself, Presley flashed his swoon-worthy smile, rolled up his sleeves and let a New York state official stick a needle loaded up with the polio vaccine in his arm.

At that point, the polio virus had been ravaging the American landscape for years, and approximately 60,000 children were infected annually. By 1955, hope famously arrived in the form of Jonas Salk’s vaccine. But despite the literally crippling effects of the virus and the promising results of the vaccination, many Americans simply weren’t getting vaccinated. In fact, when Presley appeared on the Sullivan show, immunization levels among American teens were at an abysmal 0.6 percent.

You might think that threats to children’s health and life expectancy would be enough to motivate people to get vaccinated. Yet, convincing people to get a vaccine is a challenging endeavor. Intuitively, it seems like it would be wise to have doctors and other health officials communicate the need to receive the vaccine. Or, failing that, we might just need to give people more information about the effectiveness of the vaccine itself…(More)”.

Applying behavioural science to the annual electoral canvass in England: Evidence from a large-scale randomised controlled trial

Paper by Martin Sweeney, Peter John, Michael Sanders, Hazel Wright and Lucy Makinson: “Local authorities in Great Britain are required to ensure that their electoral registers are as accurate and complete as possible. To this end, Household Enquiry Forms (HEFs) are mailed to all properties annually to collect updated details from residents, and any eligible unregistered residents will subsequently be invited to register to vote. Unfortunately, HEF nonresponse is pervasive and costly. Using insights from behavioural science, we modified letters and envelopes posted to households as part of the annual canvass, and evaluated their effects using a randomised controlled trial across two local authorities in England (N=226,528 properties). We find that modified materials – particularly redesigned envelopes – significantly increase initial response rates and savings. However, we find no effects on voter registration. While certain behavioural interventions can improve the efficiency of the annual canvass, other approaches or interventions may be needed to increase voter registration rates and update voter information….(More)”.

The Nudge Puzzle: Matching Nudge Interventions to Cybersecurity Decisions

Paper by Verena Zimmermann and Karen Renaud: “Nudging is a promising approach, in terms of influencing people to make advisable choices in a range of domains, including cybersecurity. However, the processes underlying the concept and the nudge’s effectiveness in different contexts, and in the long term, are still poorly understood. Our research thus first reviewed the nudge concept and differentiated it from other interventions before applying it to the cybersecurity area. We then carried out an empirical study to assess the effectiveness of three different nudge-related interventions on four types of cybersecurity-specific decisions. Our study demonstrated that the combination of a simple nudge and information provision, termed a “hybrid nudge,” was at least as, and in some decision contexts even more effective in encouraging secure choices as the simple nudge on its own. This indicates that the inclusion of information when deploying a nudge, thereby increasing the intervention’s transparency, does not necessarily diminish its effectiveness.

A follow-up study explored the educational and long-term impact of our tested nudge interventions to encourage secure choices. The results indicate that the impact of the initial nudges, of all kinds, did not endure. We conclude by discussing our findings and their implications for research and practice….(More)”.

Nudging in Singapore: Current Implementation in Three Key Areas

Paper by Benjamin H. Detenber: “The city state of Singapore has a long history of social engineering efforts, yet only recently have social scientists and civil servants started to use behavioural insights (BI) to create ‘nudges’ and integrate them into the daily lives of citizens. Colloquially known as a nanny state for its extensive social programmes and sometimes heavy-handed approach to guiding social behaviour, Singapore is often regarded favourably by its neighbours in terms of its cleanliness, efficiency, and productivity. Yet how it manages its populace and the restrictions it imposes on unwanted behaviours are sometimes viewed sceptically by others in Asia and the West. Thus, many in the Singapore Civil Service have come to see nudging as a less coercive way to promote social welfare and well-being. This article reviews some of the latest actions in three areas: finance, health, and the environment. In discussing the range of nudging practices, their effectiveness will be assessed and some of the implications for society and individuals will be addressed. To the extent that Singapore can be considered a bellwether or harbinger, its use of nudges may offer a glimpse of what lies ahead for other countries in the region….(More)”.

Roadmap for Public Service Reform Rooted in Behavioral Science

Press Release by ideas42 and The Asia Foundation: “….a new report, Official Action: A Roadmap for Using Behavioral Science in Public Administration Reform. The insights in Official Action combine more than a decade of experience applying behavioral science to public policy with a deepening but still relatively new scientific literature.

Complexity is at the heart of public service reform. Such systems are characterized by being underbudgeted, limited by difficult power balances that don’t always lend themselves toward collaboration, hierarchical performance systems that serve the present not future, inter-agency territorial barriers to cooperation, among other issues. In the limited space for feasible reform within this complexity, behavior change may be the nudge required to wiggle open further efficiencies to change-minded alterations with potentially significant knock-on effects.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for innovative approaches to government reform as public institutions around the world struggle to perform basic functions like coordinating timely public information campaigns, steering economic resources to those who need them, and procuring essential medical and protective equipment and supplies. Official Action shows that these failures are not simply due to a lack of resources, accountability, competence, or motivation; but that they may be symptoms of the unique stresses that public servants face which, if left unchecked, can derail even the most dedicated officials.

The report offers new solutions to every day challenges, such as ensuring that all complaints and requests receive equal treatment; helping front-line bureaucrats operate efficiently despite increasing workloads; and fighting corruption within public institutions by demonstrating that governance failures are in large part due to the situations that public servants find themselves in, rather than individual shortcomings.

When barriers like constant changes in work environment, unrealistic workloads, and parallel systems for getting things done exist, the best policies to improve government performance will be those that support better use of public servants’ limited time and realign institutional incentives to encourage behavior change….(More)”.

A nudge in the right direction

Report by Partnership for Public Service and Grant Thornton: “The people of this nation depend on government to perform at the highest level. To optimize performance, some agencies are drawing on knowledge about human behavior to improve how they do business. By understanding how people process information and make decisions, and using that knowledge to inform how programs are designed and administered, those agencies
are producing better results—often quickly and at little cost.

At the Department of Education, staff and a team of outside researchers sent personalized text messages over the summer to high school graduates who had been accepted to college, boosting how many enrolled in the fall. The Department of Defense increased the number of service members who enrolled in the Thrift Savings Plan, the federal government’s retirement program, by nudging them at a “reset” point in their life—as they transferred to a new base. And an easier to understand letter from the Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program asking participants to verify their eligibility led to a higher response rate and fewer
eligible participants losing access to the program.

While the application of behavioral insights has tremendous potential to improve the work of government, the movement is still in early stages.

To encourage more widespread use, the Partnership for Public Service and Grant Thornton hosted five workshops with federal employees between March and September 2020. The sessions examined how behavioral insights could improve processes and programs and deliver better agency performance.

This report presents the findings from those workshops, including insights from workshop presenters, many of whom are applying behavioral insights in their own agencies. It explains how behavioral insights can make government more effective; provides tips for choosing a behavioral insights project and getting leaders to buy in; describes how to test whether a behavioral insights project was successful; and offers guidance on how to build on the results of a test….(More)”.

Managing Organizations to Sustain Passion for Public Service

Book by James Perry: “Almost three decades ago, James Perry created the first survey instrument to measure public service motivation. Since then, social and behavioural scientists have intensively studied the motivating power of public service. This research relating to public service motivation, altruism and prosocial motivation and behaviour has overturned widespread assumptions grounded in market-orientated perspectives and produced a critical mass of new knowledge for transforming the motivation of public employees, civil service policies and management practices. This is the first study to look systematically across the different streams of research. Furthermore, it is the first study to synthesize the research across the applied questions that public organizations and their leaders confront, including: how to recruit ethical and committed staff; how to design meaningful public work; how to create work environments that support prosocial behaviour; how to compensate employees to sustain their public service; how to socialise employees for public service missions; and how to lead employees to engage in causes greater than themselves….(More)”