2016 so far
Just over halfway through the busy year seems like a good time to recap of what we have done so far. From the streets of Bristol clad in high-vis, to corporate boardrooms (not clad in high-vis), here are a few of the most interesting behavioural insights projects we’ve done in the first half of 2016.
Increasing food recycling in Bristol, with Bristol City Council and With The Grain
Efficient recycling is a cornerstone of sustainability, both globally and locally. With The Grain were asked by Bristol City Council to use behavioural insights in order to encourage the residents to recycle more, and better, so us and With The Grain teamed up. After extensive literature review of the behavioural context, together we conducted an on-site qualitative study, finding a wealth of insight into in-home recycling (e.g., people who recycle well usually have a well-established temporary holding location). Subsequently, we worked with the Council to co-produce an intervention, focusing on food recycling. Food, being the heaviest component of landfill, can not only significantly reduce the amount of rubbish going to landfill, but also save the Council a lot of money.
We designed a set of leaflets and stickers to be put on landfill bins and recycling boxes as a means of communication with residents of a pre-selected area of Bristol. We used personalisation, reciprocity, and a friendly local voice to encourage residents to opt-in to the scheme, in which we would deliver new food recycling kits (thereby reducing the effort involved in getting new kits). The stickers intervention proved successful – 15% of the households already recycling dry items (plastic, glass, etc.) started recycling food, while 30% of those not recycling anything started recycling food. For the latter, the effect spilled over to dry recycling: 60% of those households took up dry recycling. Notably, dry-recyclers proved to be more responsive to leaflets rather than stickers, with 25% beginning to recycle food after receiving a leaflet.
De-biasing pension trustees, aka the Million Dollar Checklist, with Behave London
Pension trustees manage millions of pounds worth of pension contributions.However, research suggests that making significant financial decisions (especially about other people’s money) is riddled with decision making biases, such as loss aversion, endowment effect, and more. Working with Aon Hewitt, we conducted two focus group interviews to identify the biases and heuristics the trustees might be subject to, and cross-checked them with existing research. We arrived at 6 most prominent, and dangerous, effects. They became the backbone of the Checklist, designed to help the trustees de-bias their financial decision-making.
We then conducted a controlled experiment, comparing decision-making performance with and without (control) the Checklist, using real-life pension scenarios. The effect it had was clear. We have managed to put a brake on quick, intuitive reasoning, without losing confidence. Trustees without the Checklist answered quicker, showed more biased answers, and were quite confident they were correct. With the Checklist, the Trustees were slower, much less biased, but, crucially, almost equally confident in their choice.
Helping to increase feedback among employees at Actelion
Actelion is a large pharmaceutical company. Their operations, from developing and testing new drugs, to circulating them, rely on communication between staff on a day-to-day basis, but effective feedback was missing. We were approached by Actelion to help with this issue.
We began by conducting focus group interviews to pinpoint the specifics, including deliberative responses as well as more instinctive reactions to both giving and receiving feedback. Subsequently, we ran substantial literature reviews from the psychological and anthropological angle. Issues with feedback turned out to be deep-seated, and would not be rectified by quick and simple interventions. We honed in using an Implicit Association Test (IAT), and found out how specific groups within the company react to different forms of feedback. This allowed us to paint the big picture of what needs to be changed where, and introduce mild structural changes for lasting improvement. Case study here.
Exploring men’s perception of mental health support campaigns
Mental health problems, from chronic stress, to anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts are prominent in modern society. Research suggest that men face an additional challenge, whereby admitting to such problems is stereotyped as unmanly. This results in few men seeking professional help, and 76% of all suicides in the UK being committed by men (read our blog post about it here). Dealing with psychologically-informed communications on a day-to-day basis, we decided to find out how to improve the poster campaigns encouraging men to call helplines.
We designed a study comparing four different posters, and explored men’s (100+) attitudes and perceptions of them. Our results suggest that there indeed is a lot current campaigns can do to encourage more men to reach out. The most prominent dimensions appear to be the desire for group inclusiveness and the distinction between group and individual posters, a more active voice (e.g. call-to-action), and framing of help-seeking as an active step. This is work in progress: we are now committed to raising awareness, and helping to design more effective future posters.
The 3rd annual Male Psychology Conference, London
With this in mind, we were also invited to deliver a talk on a 3rd Male Psychology Conference, a great event exploring male psychology and mental health. The day was a success, and we were happy to contribute to making progress within the field.
Read the blog post about this work, or contact us for more.
Improving comprehension of written communications
Following from 2015, we continue to help companies re-write and re-structure their existing written communications to improve customer understanding, particularly in the financial sector, where services are intangible and abstract. A prime example we have dealt with this year are pensions (this time from the pensioners’ perspective) – and misunderstanding the intricacies can have serious financial consequences.
In this vein, we have helped a few companies write their messages, from a single email to a twelve-item-strong series of letters and booklets directed at those approaching retirement. Submitting the re-writes to test against the original versions, we always manage to reduce the cognitive load and improve comprehension, as well as create a more favourable impression in the customers’ eyes.
Judging the RSA Student Design Awards
Oliver was asked to be a judge on the Royal Society of Arts’ ‘One Man’s Waste’ panel for their annual Student Design Awards along with six others. Oliver’s book on sustainable behaviour a major factor in being asked.
It was two days of hard work – the first whittling down over 80 entries to 9 of the judge’s favourites, and the second day interviewing the candidate teams before they made their final decision.
• For German enquiries please speak with Lina Skora
• For English enquiries please speak with Oliver Payne
You might like to:
• View the behavioural communication book Inspiring Sustainable Behaviour: 19 Ways To Ask For Change published by Routledge, available in most countries.
• Join the London Behavioural Economics Network Meetup group
• Join the London Behavioural Economics Network on Facebook