Getting Meta All The Time: a new type of behavioural insight?

This is worth a look. I know people have been using insights from behavioural economics and behavioural psychology in staff (or student) cafeteria – and then writing about it – for some time. But if you’ve not read a similar case study before, this is good.

6 Ways Google Hacks Its Cafeterias So Googlers Eat Healthier | Co.Design: business + innovation + design.

The one thing here that IS new to me, though, is the use of what’s called a ‘meta-nudge’. This might be more significant than it seems. Here’s why …

One objection to using behavioural insights in designing policy is that it’s somehow underhand. To some extent, this is a valid view, informed as it is by the use of behavioural effects by marketers, restauranteurs, phone companies and the like (check OFT’s 2010 report on pricing for examples), which seem designed essentially to ‘trick’ customers into parting with more cash than they otherwise might.

Well, informing staff in the canteen, as Google does, that if they use a bigger plate, they’re likely to eat more is not really applying a behavioural insight as such; instead, it’s explicitly telling people about the insight, and giving them the choice. So where we might usually use the ‘default effect’ by making only smaller plates available, here we are explaining how a larger plate primes a certain behaviour – and leaving people to make their own decision. Superficially, this may be similar to a sign by the lift and stairs stating that most people use the stairs (which utilises social proof to encourage people to walk, as referred to on p17 of this Cabinet Office report), but it’s quite distinct, really – it’s the equivalent of the stair sign saying “If we put a sign here telling you that most people use the stairs, then you are more likely to use them yourself”. And I don’t think that has been tried yet!

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