A guide to using behavioural insights in local government

I wrote this for Sunderland City Council, following some work using behavioural insights in a range of projects. Although written for an internal audience, they’re happy to share it. I really enjoyed working there, especially all the co-production with wonderful front-line staff; I got a lot out of it and I hope that by sharing these insights, you will too – if you work on local public services and are interested in how behavioural insights (BI) can help.

There’s not much in here on demand management (which is the theme for most of my BI work in local government), since all the projects it was based on were for the Health & Wellbeing Board. But there is a section on how demand management (DM) work differs. I guess the next thing I need to write should cover DM in more detail and include the dozens of non-Sunderland examples I have.

You can download a copy here: A guide to using behavioural insights in Sunderland or from the Sunderland Partnership here.


Ideas Generation and Behavioural Insights

Here is the ideas grid I use when working with local authorities to co-produce ways of using behavioural insights. Each effect has a ‘how can we use it?’ challenge; we use it to develop ideas. Some of the ideas generated feel counter-intuitive, some feel run-of-the-mill, some feel like breakthroughs straightaway. We play them back, and pick the ones that feel like the best bets to build into a trial approach.

Behavioural effects are chunked into four main groups:

  • Norm effects: making your target behaviour seem normal
  • Ease effects: making your target behaviour easy
  • Reward effects: increasing the sense of reward for your target behaviour
  • Obligation effects: helping people feel an imperative to choose your target behaviour

Ideas Grid 1

Ideas Grid 2

This is the full list. It’s not an exhaustive list of effects, but if it were any longer, I think it’d be too daunting for staff who are new to the behavioural perspective. In practice, in project workshops, I often use a shorter, more targeted list and grid of effects, reflecting what I’ve learned tends to work best for different contexts. It’s easier for people to use.

If you’re involved in improving public services, feel free to use this grid yourself.

I’ve been using this since 2010, with a few tweaks over the years. This version is taken from the soon-to-be-published Guide To Using Behavioural Insights In Local Government, that I’ve written with Sunderland City Council.