Interview with Warren Hatter on local government and low carbon policies

It’s not often I get asked to do an interview. So I was happy to oblige with some answers when asked recently. This is what I said about local government, carbon and climate (and a little on behavioural sciences), prompted by questions from Manchester Climate Monthly.

manchester climate monthly

Warren Hatter is a London-based consultant and commentator with a special interest – and many years experience – in local government and carbon policy. MCFly co-editor Marc Hudson asks him a few questions…

Is local government where it needs to be on climate change, compared to the hopes that were around when the Nottingham Declaration was created?
You’d be surprised if I said that local government now was brilliantly addressing climate change, and I won’t let you down on that. You’re right about the Nottingham Declaration (in 2000) though. There was a lot of optimism, wasn’t there? I recall that those were more optimistic times generally around local government, which is a factor; I bet professionals in many fields would say that local government is a less hopeful place now than then. A new government had come to power with promises of devolving responsibility to local government (this might sound familiar!)…

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Are some behavioural insights easier to stomach than others?

Every so often, when I’m running workshops on using insights from behavioural sciences, I’m struck by how the reaction to some effects differs from others. I’ve mentioned this before in relation to the use of smileys.

And I think I’ve noticed that, in public services and policy, some effects have been used more readily than others. The example of organ donation, with policy makers in England choosing to use exposure effect and those in Wales using defaults is a good example.

So I now have a theory: that there are some behavioural effects that can be understood and accepted even with the ‘rational-agent’ model. Of course people are more likely to do something if you make it the thing that happens unless they act! And of course people are more likely to do something if you ask them to do it! I can believe these two things without accepting that my instincts are perfectly adapted to an environment very unlike the one I live in.

I hadn’t really put two and two together when I did my talk last week for Political Innovation. I don’t think it would have changed my argument, but it might have made it more nuanced.

So, is there a set of insights from behavioural sciences that decision makers (and people generally) are more comfortable with, because they don’t fundamentally challenge our learned understanding of what people are like (that is, basically in control of our actions, and largely acting with purpose)? And a set that are more troubling, because they alert us to how driven we are by herd instincts and evolutionary imperatives? The latter set would include hyperbolic discounting, social proof and many others.

Am I on to something? Is this a new insight, or so obvious that no-one has bothered to point it out? Or does this sort of analysis already exist? Let me know.