«EASY ATTRACTIVE TIMELY SOCIAL EAST Four simple ways to apply behavioural insights Owain Service, Michael Hallsworth, David Halpern, Felicity Algate, Rory ...»
Four simple ways to
apply behavioural insights
Owain Service, Michael Hallsworth, David Halpern,
Felicity Algate, Rory Gallagher, Sam Nguyen, Simon Ruda, Michael Sanders
with Marcos Pelenur, Alex Gyani, Hugo Harper, Joanne Reinhard & Elspeth Kirkman.
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH
Executive Summary 04 Introduction 08 Make it Easy 09 Make it Attractive 19 Make it Social 29 Make it Timely 37 Applying Behavioural Insights 43 Conclusion 50 Endnotes 51 The Behavioural Insights Team Preface EAST Preface One of the key objectives of the Behavioural Insights Team at its creation in 2010 was to spread the understanding of behavioural approaches across the policy community. Alongside the policy work and trials conducted by the Team over the last three years, we have conducted many seminars, workshops and talks with policy makers, academics and practitioners. From these many sessions, together with our trials and policy work, has emerged a simple, pragmatic framework to help think about behaviour change.
In the early years, we often used the MINDSPACE framework, and indeed some of the team were centrally involved in developing it.1 We still use this framework.
But we found in seminars that its nine elements were hard for busy policy makers to keep in mind (itself reflecting ‘cognitive chunking’). At the same time, we found in our day-to-day trials and policy work that some of the most reliable effects came from changes that weren’t easily captured by MINDSPACE, or indeed by much of the academic literature. For example, we have often found that simplifying messages, or removing even the tiniest amount of ‘friction’ in a process, can have a large impact. For these reasons, we wanted to develop a shorter, simple mnemonic — the EAST framework.
The EAST framework was developed by the Behavioural Insights Team from early
2012. After initial testing in seminars given by members of the team with UK Civil Servants, the first public ‘outing’ of EAST in its final form was in a short series of lectures I gave in Harvard and Washington later that year. Since then, we have refined and developed some of the core concepts and ideas, based on new findings and feedback from those we have tested EAST with. I would stress that, like most of what BIT does, it is very much the work of the team, and many have contributed to it – not least our friend and colleague Richard Thaler whose mantra is to ‘make it easy’.
We hope you find this guide helpful. Getting familiar with the EAST framework won’t turn you into the world’s leading expert on behavioural insight. There are more complex frameworks and typologies, and many subtle and fascinating effects that EAST does not cover. But if even a small percentage of policies and practices are adapted as a result, EAST should lead to services that are easier and more pleasant for citizens to use, and more effective and cheaper too.
David Halpern Chief Executive, The Behavioural Insights Team
Executive Summary If you want to encourage a behaviour, make it Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely (EAST). These four simple principles for applying behavioural insights are based on the Behavioural Insights Team’s own work and the wider academic literature.
There is a large body of evidence on what influences behaviour, and we do not attempt to reflect all its complexity and nuances here. But we have found that policy makers and practitioners find it useful to have a simple, memorable framework to think about effective behavioural approaches.
With this in mind, the principles from EAST are:
1. Make it Easy · Harness the power of defaults. We have a strong tendency to go with the default or pre-set option, since it is easy to do so. Making an option the default makes it more likely to be adopted.
· Reduce the ‘hassle factor’ of taking up a service. The effort required to perform an action often puts people off. Reducing the effort required can increase uptake or response rates.
· Simplify messages. Making the message clear often results in a significant increase in response rates to communications. In particular, it’s useful to identify how a complex goal can be broken down into simpler, easier actions.
Example: Auto-enrolment into pension schemes In the first six months after employees in large firms were automatically enrolled into pension schemes, participation rates rose from 61 to 83%.
2. Make it Attractive · Attract attention. We are more likely to do something that our attention is drawn towards. Ways of doing this include the use of images, colour or personalisation.
· Design rewards and sanctions for maximum effect. Financial incentives are often highly effective, but alternative incentive designs — such as lotteries — also work well and often cost less.
Example: Drawing the attention of those who fail to pay road tax When letters to non-payers of car tax included a picture of the offending vehicle, payment rates rose from 40 to 49%.
3. Make it Social · Show that most people perform the desired behaviour. Describing what most people do in a particular situation encourages others to do the same. Similarly, policy makers should be wary of inadvertently reinforcing a problematic behaviour by emphasising its high prevalence.
· Use the power of networks. We are embedded in a network of social relationships, and those we come into contact with shape our actions.
Governments can foster networks to enable collective action, provide mutual support, and encourage behaviours to spread peer-to-peer.
· Encourage people to make a commitment to others. We often use commitment devices to voluntarily ‘lock ourselves’ into doing something in advance. The social nature of these commitments is often crucial.
Example: Using social norms to increase tax payments When people were told in letters from HMRC that most people pay their tax on time, it increased significantly payment rates. The most successful message led to a 5 percentage point increase in payments.
4. Make it Timely · Prompt people when they are likely to be most receptive. The same offer made at different times can have drastically different levels of success.
Behaviour is generally easier to change when habits are already disrupted, such as around major life events.
· Consider the immediate costs and benefits. We are more influenced by costs and benefits that take effect immediately than those delivered later. Policy makers should consider whether the immediate costs or benefits can be adjusted (even slightly), given that they are so influential.
· Help people plan their response to events. There is a substantial gap between intentions and actual behaviour. A proven solution is to prompt people to identify the barriers to action, and develop a specific plan to address them.
Example: Increasing payment rates through text messages Prompting those owing Courts Service fines with a text message 10 days before the bailiffs are to be sent to a person’s home doubles the value of payments made, without the need for further intervention.
In order to apply these insights in practice, the Behavioural Insights Team has developed a methodology that draws on experience of developing major strategies for the UK Government, a rich understanding of the behavioural literature, and the rigorous application of tools for testing ‘what works’.
The EAST framework is at the heart of this methodology, but it cannot be applied in isolation from a good understanding of the nature and context of the problem.
Therefore, we have developed a fuller method for developing projects, which has
four main stages:
1. Define the outcome Identify exactly what behaviour is to be influenced. Consider how this can be measured reliably and efficiently. Establish how large a change would make the project worthwhile, and over what time period.
2. Understand the context Visit the situations and people involved in the behaviour, and understand the context from their perspective. Use this opportunity to develop new insights and design a sensitive and feasible intervention.
3. Build your intervention Use the EAST framework to generate your behavioural insights. This is likely to be an iterative process that returns to the two steps above.
4. Test, learn, adapt Put your intervention into practice so its effects can be reliably measured.
Wherever possible, BIT attempts to use randomised controlled trials to evaluate its interventions. These introduce a control group so you can understand what would have happened if you had done nothing.
The team’s recent experience shows the potential for these ideas, and the methods for applying them, to be incorporated into government actions. We are publishing this paper as a guide for policy makers, in the UK and overseas, to draw on this thinking with the ultimate aim of helping people to make better choices for themselves and society.
Introduction This paper sets out four simple principles for influencing behaviour — make it Easy, Simple, Attractive and Timely (EAST). The EAST framework has been developed by the Behavioural Insights Team from its experience of applying behavioural insights over the past three years. EAST therefore complements the existing MINDSPACE report by focusing more on how to apply behavioural insights in practice.2 The paper does not seek to be comprehensive. Rather, its aim is to show how some of the most relevant behavioural insights can be applied to policy challenges. Many of these insights can be combined. For example, our interventions in Jobcentres combine all elements of the EAST framework, by making it easy (cutting down the process), attractive (personalising job advice), social (introducing commitment devices), and timely (making sure a workfocused interview happens on day one). Others focus on a particular aspect of EAST, such using social norms to encourage people to pay their tax debts.
Despite the success of these interventions, when applying behavioural insights we need to recognise that context matters. Something that works well in one area of policy might not work quite so well in another. Similarly, some behavioural effects can have unintended consequences if misapplied. For this reason, this paper also contains a number of ‘Behavioural Pitfall’ boxes, which show a range of different ways in which the misapplication of behavioural insights might result in perverse effects. For example, Behavioural Pitfall 2 is to inadvertently reinforce a negative behaviour by using social norms that suggest that the ‘problem behaviour’ is relatively widespread (for example by attempting to discourage people from turning up to appointments late by emphasising how widespread this problem has become).
Since small changes in context can have a dramatic impact on the effectiveness of policies, the Behavioural Insights Team advocates rigorous testing and trialling of new interventions, ideally through randomised controlled trials. These enable policy makers to compare the effects of the intervention against what would have happened in its absence (or if an alternative method had been used).3 The team also advocates carrying out fieldwork to understand how users experience services and, where possible, co-design interventions with the people who deliver and use them.
These two methods - applying policy interventions informed by the growing body of behavioural research, together with rigorous testing and trialling based on a rich understanding of the context in which a policy is being delivered — are the hallmarks of the Behavioural Insights Team’s methodology. We think that they should become more routine aspects of the policy maker’s tool kit.
1. Make it Easy Most of us have been in situations in which we had every intention of doing something, but never quite got around to doing it. These might be relatively small things, like tidying your home or switching your energy supplier to get a better deal. Sometimes it can be for those really important things in our lives, like starting a pension plan, making a will, or applying to university.
The lesson that comes through strongest from the behavioural literature and our own work is that small, seemingly irrelevant details that make a task more challenging or effortful (what we call ‘friction costs’) can make the difference between doing something and putting it off – sometimes indefinitely.
Therefore, the first principle is to consider how to make it easier for someone to do something, be it live more healthily or pay their taxes on time.
Some ways to ‘make it easy’ include:
· Harness the power of defaults · Reduce the ‘hassle factor’ of taking up a service · Simplify messages
1.1 Harnessing the power of defaults We have a strong tendency to stick with the ‘default’ option, which is the outcome that occurs if we do not choose otherwise. Understanding the default and how it can be changed can significantly improve uptake of a service.
Some of the most famous policy examples from the behavioural economics literature relate to changing the default option. For example, when individuals are automatically enrolled onto pension schemes but can choose to opt out, they are much more likely to end up with a pension plan than if they have to actively opt in (see Box 1.1).
Similarly, organ donation schemes can be set to automatically enrol people.
Or tax systems can be put in place that automatically deduct individual’s income tax without an individual having to take any action (as in the UK’s Pay-As-You-Earn system). In these examples the default option can be a very powerful tool for encouraging different outcomes. But because of the power of these particular policy tools, they will also require careful consideration of what might be acceptable politically and to the public at large. In England, for example, we have an organ donation scheme that requires people to give their active consent.
While the above defaults relate to the way that whole systems are designed and operate, many defaults are subtler in nature. Indeed, every policy area will have many default settings and options that can be set to support a particular outcome.
These include, for example, the information that is requested first in a form (information up front will draw most attention); the size of plates in hotel buffets (smaller plates result in less food consumed and less waste); whether heating systems need to be turned off or automatically switch themselves off at particular points in the day.
We believe that policy makers have not — yet — given sufficient attention to these default settings, and how they can be harnessed for the good of society and individuals. In the private sector, much attention is paid to how defaults
might be used. Here are a few examples:
· Most gyms in the UK will ask you to pay through monthly automated transfers from your bank account so that the default is that you continue paying.
· Social networking sites have default settings around information sharing and privacy, which many users never fully examine or change.
· Mobile phone settings are configured in a particular way when you buy them, and most will remain set in that way.
· Many consumers of energy, broadband and telephony services stay with the same provider, and continue paying the ‘default’ tariff, which might be much higher than one that they could switch to with another supplier.