Behavioural nudges for positive outcomes in Government policy

At Loyalty Bay, we are very interested in how “nudges” can be applied to change people’s behaviour online, but one of the most exciting areas is how this can be applied to making positive policy outcomes in government and local authorities.

So what is a “nudge” in the context of this blog post?

Nudge theory (or nudge) is a concept in behavioural science, political theory and economics which proposes positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions to try to achieve non-forced compliance to influence the motives, incentives and decision making of groups and individuals.

The idea of using nudges in government policy is not new and has been applied all over the world. In the UK we have The Behavioural Insights Team that is doing really interesting work in this area, as can be seen from one of their experiments below:

In one trial, a letter sent to non-payers of vehicle taxes was changed to use plainer English, along the line of “pay your tax or lose your car”. In some cases the letter was further personalised by including a photo of the car in question. The rewritten letter alone doubled the number of people paying the tax; the rewrite with the photo tripled it. Source

We want to see how experiments like the above can be taken further, implemented more quickly and tested in wider policy areas using software and rigorous data analysis.

Some areas that are of particular interest:

  • Encouraging better financial decision making – how do we get more people to save money regularly?
  • Increasing organ donation and giving blood
  • Promoting flu vaccine uptake – the more people who have the flu shot the better it is for everyone.
  • Health – whether that is exercising regularly, eating healthily, addressing mental health, there is a lot that could be done better.

  • Voter turnout – in the UK our turnout is pretty poor. How can we encourage more people to participate?
  • Education uptake and class attendance
  • Quitting smoking
  • Getting more people using online services (aimed at local authorities) as it is more efficient and can save money
  • Recycling and waste management – the more people that recycle the better it is for the environment not to mention the cost savings that can be achieved.

This list is by no means exhaustive and there is a lot happening in these areas already, but we believe more can be done, particularly in the online sphere.

Here is one idea of what could be done using our software:

Government target: The Department of Health have stated that one of their priorities is:

“enabling people and communities to make decisions about their own health and care.” Source.

Local authority problem: local authorities spend millions chasing late rent payments and want to get people to pay online and via direct debit, as it saves both a huge amount of time and money.

Idea: why not incentivise people to pay their rent by direct debit on local authority web portals (in this case Lambeth council) by offering them a Fitbit, which fits in line with the Department of Health’s priorities.

A Loyalty Bay light box offering a Fitbit on Lambeth Councils rent collection page

In this case, the Fitbit costs £19.99 but could pale into insignificance when weighed up by the cost and time savings of getting someone onto direct debit.

I should clarify that you don’t necessarily need to offer a Fitbit or something of that specific value. I merely use this as an example. Our software would allow you to test any type of incentive (including free content) and value to see what works and what doesn’t. We can provide multivariate testing and all of the required data to back it up in our analytics dashboards.

You could even trigger the light box (or integrate our API) based on specific criteria i.e. only show to someone who looks like they are about to abandon or only show to people who are not already on direct debit and have visited this page once already but failed to sign up.

We would love to partner with academics, NGOs and government to see how ideas like this could be progressed. Please get in touch.


Useful resources to check out:

The Behavioural Insights Team

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Wealth, Health and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

Could Solving This One Problem Solve All the Others?

Big Returns from Thinking Small

Public.io – can you transform the public sector

Zinc VC – We create the innovation system to build commercially successful businesses which solve chronic social problems for hundreds of millions of people in the developed world.

Author: William Roberts

Founder and CEO of Loyalty Bay

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