It has been a quiet time on the blogging front in recent months. There has been lots of change going on and I have needed time to adjust, to recalibrate and realign my energies. In August, I took on a new role with an exciting and auspicious title “Behavioural Insights Advisor” with the ACT Government in the Education Directorate.
This shift from federal to state government has given me lots of insight into ‘how things work’ at the territory level. Coming from the APS, there has been a necessary shift in perspective as the ACT Government is both a state and local jurisdiction.
One of the things I have noticed (and been questioned about) is what is my role – what do I do? Now, generally speaking, in the government departments I worked at previously there was a growing understanding and recognition of behavioural insights (BI) / economics. BI helps to facilitate the design and delivery of effective policy and programs – which have impact on the ground. But how does this happen at a practical level? There is lots of information available online about what BI is but what can it do?
The Victorian Government says this:
Behavioural insights helps us understand how people make decisions. It recognises that humans are not always rational, and we don’t always follow through with what we intend to do. Our decisions can be affected by seemingly irrelevant things, such as how information is presented or what others are doing.
Behavioural insights draws on psychology, behavioural economics, user-centred design and systems thinking to better design, develop and implement public policies.
This summary articulates well the skills I bring to this work. With a background in user centred design and love of accessibility (my PhD touched on these issues), my focus has been on how do we include people. How do we make sure that we are giving people the information they need to make informed decisions? In the context of online communications – and I mean the full gamut of websites, social media and apps, the information needs to be clear – clearly presented visually and clearly written. This gives the end user* (a term I don’t really like) the best chance to act.
I also love this diagram from the OECD:
This desired action is part of a process of change, which is why behavioural insights sits so well with organisational change projects. The change management of processes and procedures that are mapped out need to consider the human impact that this change affects. Much of the work I have done over the years has been exactly that – change communications, sending the right message at the right time to the right people.
Also the above quote highlights the broad range of disciplines that behavioural insights is drawn from. For my part, I am not an economist, but I have studied psychology in the context of sustainability behaviour change for many years and understand things that influence decision making – like loss aversion. Our habits, motivations, attitudes and values also impact our ability to make decisions. This highlights why it is critical to communicate well – changing is hard – not understanding why the change has to happen just makes things harder for people.
*For me the term end user seems to take the human element away from the process. I work with people and people are by nature diverse with diverse needs, motivations and circumstances.
Apolitical (2019) What is Behavioural Insights?
Global-is-Asian (2017) How to master behavioural insights in policy making
Isaacs, S. (2019) 5 Things You Should Know about Behavioral Economics
NSW Premier and Cabinet (2019) Behavioural Insights
OECD (2019) Behavioural Insights
Vic Gov (2019) Behavioural Insights