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Behavioral Led Government Service Improvement

10 February 2015


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Continuous and effective communication by government can change citizens’ behavior, says Halpern

Effective communication with citizens and residents needs government policies to be easy, attractive, social, and timely, said Dr. David Halpern, chief executive of the Behavioral Insights Team and Board Director, UK. The Behavioral Insights Team, popularly known as the nudge-unit, is dedicated to the application of behavioral sciences. 

The company helps organizations in the UK and overseas to apply behavioral insights in support of social goals. It addresses key variables that influence individual human behavior. Halpern said many governments face constant challenges where traditional methods of enforcing government policies are redundant. 

Halpern said his organization was formed when the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government took charge in Britain in 2010. The coalition agreement set out a program to ‘rebuild a broke economy’, and mend the political system, and give more power to the people. The role of behavioral intervention helped the government achieve successful, cost-effective results to small government policies. 

Citing examples, Halpern said the nudge-unit helped in the automatic enrolment of individuals to pension schemes; informing people who failed to pay their tax that most other people had already paid, resulting in increased payment rates; and promoting people to join the organ donor registry by using smartly worded messages. 

Making communication with citizens of the country more attractive and interesting makes policymaking more effective, he said. The BIT uses a systematic approach with four steps: defining the outcome, understanding the context, building behavioral insights; and ‘test, learn, and adapt’. 

Systematic collection of evidence/data is the best means of making behavioral insights possible. Data can be continuously collected in the education, health care, and other public sectors. You can run an experiment on the most effective method of teaching mathematics in schools, he said. This helps lawmakers understand how to make new connections, get live feedback and thereby implement better legislation. 

One of the key observations Halpern made was the display of data analytics and public information to people. He said complicated statistics can confuse a country’s residents. It is a challenge for government to make channels of communication more effective.