«EASY ATTRACTIVE TIMELY SOCIAL EAST Four simple ways to apply behavioural insights Owain Service, Michael Hallsworth, David Halpern, Felicity Algate, Rory ...»
The most successful variant will add around 100,000 extra organ donors per year relative to the control. It asked ‘If you needed an organ transplant, would you have one? If so, please help others’ (labelled as ‘Would you?’ in the graph below). This message draws on reciprocity, the inherent desire that we have for fairness and to give back to others within our social milieu when we have received something ourselves. As Behavioural Pitfall 4 (see box in Chapter 5) explains, however, one of these messages (a social norm message with a picture of a crowd, labelled here as ‘People’) performed less well than the control.
Percentage of people registering as organ donors, by variant of message The power of social networks is well-known but under-used. We believe that governments looking to engender widespread change should not focus solely on individuals, but consider their networks as well.
3.3 Encourage people to make a commitment to others There is often a gulf between what we state we want to do and what we actually end up doing. The most obvious example is smoking: 68% of smokers want to quit, but only 26% attempt to do so in any year.34 We often recognise this gap between intentions and actions ourselves, and voluntarily try to ‘lock ourselves’ into doing something in advance (often by increasing the costs of failure, like choosing a savings account with a penalty for early withdrawal). In other words, we raise the stakes to stop ourselves giving up later. In the behavioural literature, these attempts are called ‘commitment devices’.
There are many ways commitments can be strengthened, such as defining the outcome clearly, so there is little room for reinterpretation later. But we think that the social nature of commitments is crucial.
The easiest way to ‘raise the stakes’ is to make your commitment in public, or to another person (ideally, someone whose respect you value). This is clearly seen in the case of perhaps the oldest commitment device, marriage, where people are gathered together to increase the weight of the vows being made.
Technology now offers new ways of publicising and socialising our commitments through websites such as stickK.com, which encourages people to make binding commitments with financial punishments for failure.
There are many examples of the power of commitment devices. For example:
· The Behavioural Insights Team developed an intervention with Jobcentre Plus that introduced commitment devices between job seekers and their advisors. Job seekers were asked to write down commitments to job-seeking activities for the coming week. A randomised controlled trial showed that the intervention significantly increased off-flow rates from benefits (see Box 3.4).
· The Behavioural Insights Team and HMRC ran a trial to test the effect of different language in letters requesting tax returns to be filed. We found that by strengthening the tone of the commitment (from ‘thank you for agreeing’ to ‘you agreed’), response rates rose from 21% to 25%.
· A randomised controlled trial conducted in the Philippines showed that enabling savers to restrict their right to withdraw money until they reached either a specific month or a savings target (which the individual was free to choose) increased their savings (see Box 3.5 below).
Box 3.4: Helping people back to work using commitment devices The Behavioural Insights Team has been running a range of trials with Jobcentre Plus. The longest-running intervention draws on different
elements of the EAST framework, including:
· Make it Easy, by removing unnecessary process (cutting down form filling);
· Make it Attractive, by assigning personal advisors to each individual (so that the job seeker no longer meets the job advisor that happens to be next in the queue); and · Make it Timely, by making sure that jobseekers have discussions on day one about getting back into work (enabled by cutting down a lot of the up-front process).
The most innovative part of the trial involves the introduction of commitment devices (Make it Social), which require the jobseeker to make commitments to the job advisor about what they are going to do in the next week. They write their commitments down in front of the job advisor, who then follows up whether they were successful. The job seekers are encouraged to make the commitments unambiguous by specifying when and where they are going to perform the action. The early results from the trial showed a significant increase in those off benefits at 13 weeks. We will be publishing these findings later in 2014.
The Behavioural Insights Team has applied this thinking within the Team itself by introducing a commitments board. Team members can voluntarily write personal pledges on the board, with commensurate rewards or penalties if they fail. The board has so far helped team members save more money, exercise more and even eat fewer puddings in the staff canteen.
Box 3.5: Using commitment devices to encourage saving in the Philippines A randomised controlled trial in partnership with a rural bank in the Philippines showed that offering a commitment savings account successfully prompted a lasting change in savings behaviour.35 The commitment account offered to a random sample of customers enabled them to restrict their right to withdraw money until they reached either a specific month or a savings target (which the individual was free to choose), but offered only the same interest rate as the bank’s existing savings account.
Those in the untreated control group increased their savings by a modest 8% on average in the first six months and to a 12% overall increase after one year. Those receiving a visit to encourage them to save more increased their savings by 37% in the first six months, but then ran their savings down somewhat. Those offered the commitment account, however, continued substantially to increase their savings, leading to an average increase of 82% overall at the end of the first year.
Percentage change in savings levels relative to baseline
4. Make it Timely We respond differently to prompts depending on when they occur. For example, we are particularly likely to change our habits during periods of transition — after we move house, get married, have a child or lose a close relative.36 Moreover, our decisions, thoughts and behaviour are often influenced by the ideas, objects and people we experience from moment to moment.37 For example, people’s ratings of their life satisfaction are significantly affected by the questions that have just been asked.38 Timing is an often overlooked aspect of the policy-making process. While policy makers know intuitively that timing is important, they rarely consider it a crucial part of policy design. We think that it should be. More generally, we think that more attention needs to be paid to the various ways that policies are implemented; these are not “mere details”, since we know that they greatly
influence how people react. We think policies will be more effective if they:
· Prompt people when they are likely to be most receptive · Consider the immediate costs and benefits · Help people plan their response to events
4.1 Prompt people when they are likely to be most receptive Timing matters. The same offer made at different times can have drastically different levels of success. The behavioural literature explains this by showing that people’s priorities and moods are greatly affected by the context — whether
they realise it or not. For example:
· Sending people text message prompts to pay their court fines 10 days before bailiffs were due to arrive increases payment rates by two to three times, as shown in a trial run by the Behavioural Insights Team and the Courts Service (see Box 4.1).
· Asking people to leave a legacy gift in their wills at the moment that they are writing their wills is a highly effective way of increasing charitable donations (see Box 3.2).
· Presenting persuasive messages when people have just used the toilet made them more likely to wash their hands. The study was conducted in motorway service stations and measured the amount of soap dispensed. The most effective messages increased the amount of soap used by 12%.39
Government should therefore seek to understand how different conditions or situations may affect responses, and select timings accordingly. Sometimes the factors may be expected or obvious; sometimes they will require more time to understand, and may involve in-depth work with service providers and users.
There is also a case for deliberately testing whether intervening at one point or another (for example, a particular day of the week) brings better results.
Box 4.1: Timing text message prompts to increase payment of court fines
The Behavioural Insights Team ran a trial with Her Majesty’s Courts Service to test whether well-timed text messages might increase fine payment rates.40 41 The key moment was identified as the one which offers a final opportunity to pay before a distress warrant is issued for bailiffs to recover goods up to the value of the fine.
Some individuals received no text (though they had received final reminder letters from the Courts Service). Everyone else received one of four different types of text message. Some received a standard text stating that if they failed to pay, a warrant would be issued to bailiffs. Others included the amount the person owed, and/or the name of the individual (testing the hypothesis, given above, that a personalised message is likely to be more effective). The chart below shows the results for two different trials (the light blue bars representing the second running of the trial).42 The results show that a well-timed text message is a highly effective way of increasing response rates. Simply introducing a standard text message doubles the value of payments made; personalising the message significantly increases them further.
In particular, we should consider the major moments of change that we experience in our lives. We are more likely to change their habits and behaviours during periods of transition, which disrupt and reshape our existing patterns.
These may include having a child, going to school or University, moving home, and experiencing bereavement.43 Often, these periods involve some form of interaction with public bodies.
The public sector may therefore have the opportunity to promote a change (e.g. energy-saving behaviours when moving house) or prevent a change (e.g. helping to ensure a recently bereaved elderly person does not become socially isolated). These ‘life moments’ deserve more attention from policy makers.
Box 4.2: Prompting honesty by asking people to sign up front
Prompts can also influence behaviour by making certain ideas or concepts salient at particular moments. For example, a large-scale field experiment has shown that moving signature boxes from the end of a form to the beginning can significantly increase honest reporting.44 The results showed that customers reported having driven around 10% more miles (in other words, they were more honest) when they signed their name before filling in the form, rather than after. This shows the power of asking someone to make an honest declaration at one point rather than another: the study’s authors argue that signing our name activates our sense of reputation and duty for a brief period, even if we are not aware of it.
On average, the difference amounted to 2,428 miles per car. The authors estimate the per-mile cost of car insurance in the United States to be between four and ten cents, suggesting a minimum of $97 average difference in annual insurance premiums per car between customers depending on whether they signed at the top or bottom of the form.
Number of miles declared
4.2 Consider the immediate costs and benefits We are disproportionately more motivated by costs and benefits that take effect immediately than those delivered later. This emphasis of the short-term at the expense of the long-term is often called ‘present bias’, and it comes about because the present is tangible but the future is
and hypothetical.45 When buying a car, we often focus on the upfront costs and neglect the running costs of the vehicle. This means we can lose out overall because we have neglected costs or benefits that take effect further down the line.
Unfortunately, some of the trickiest problems that governments have to grapple with are vulnerable to present bias, and the procrastination and impulsivity it can cause. Many policy problems impose immediate costs for individuals but
generate benefits which are felt in the long term, or vice versa. Examples include:
· Saving for your pension or possible social care (costs up front, benefits long term);
· Insulating your home (costs up front, benefits long term);
· Eating unhealthy but tasty food (benefits up front, costs long term).
Given that the present exerts so much influence on our choices, policy makers should pay it particular attention. Will the immediate effect of the behaviour be perceived as a profit or loss? Can the available resources be used to place some kind of incentive upfront, however small, since it will have a disproportionate impact? Equally, can an instant cost be introduced, even nominal, to reflect longer-term costs and problems?
The Save More Tomorrow scheme used this insight to increase savings.
The scheme, developed by Richard Thaler and Shlomo Benartzi, encourages individuals to increase payments to their pension plans at some point in the future, rather than today. The immediate costs, which are the main stumbling block, become delayed and therefore less painful (see Box 4.3). From a ‘timely’ perspective it is also interesting to note that, after being given the choice of when to start saving, the overwhelming majority of people chose a January start date.
Box 4.3: How asking people to ‘save more tomorrow’ can be more effective than asking people to ‘save more today’ The ‘Save More Tomorrow’ scheme shows how going with the grain of people’s instincts can help them to save more in the long term.46 Every low saver within a company was recommended by a financial advisor to increase their contributions straight away. Some people took this advice (the black group in the graph below). Others (represented in blue below) did not — mainly because they felt, at that time, that they could not afford to do so.
As an alternative, the researchers then asked this second group to increase their payments next year, and the year after that by a specified percentage (‘Save More Tomorrow’). After two years this group had already overtaken those that took the financial advisors’ advice. Notice that, for the black group, the increased payments has become the new ‘default’ (see Make it Easy), while a constant increase in savings has become the default for the Save More Tomorrow group.
Save more tomorrow savings rates
Another simple example is to bring forward distant costs into the present.
For example, a Norwegian experiment, currently being replicated by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (with support from BIT) in the UK, found that consumers were significantly more likely to buy energy efficient (but more expensive) appliances when the projected lifetime costs were simply displayed at the point of purchase.47 Similar arguments apply for green and other taxes and costs intended to shape behaviour.
4.3 Help people plan their response to events We know that making a plan means people are more likely to achieve a future goal.48 This is particularly true if the plan breaks down a complex goal into manageable actions. But we also know that plans fall through: there is often a gap between intentions and actual behaviour.49 So how can people be helped to fulfil their goals?