10 lessons from setting up BIT France

1. It’s fun to start from (almost) zero again

BIT might be 10 this year, but our history has been marked by many new beginnings – the opening of BIT France being just one of them. Not only is this our first office in continental Europe, but also our first office in a non-English speaking country, and a new beginning for our freshly-formed little team. 

And what this means is that we’ve had to leave the laurels behind, and question it all again: What makes us valuable? Where can we best contribute? How should we adapt our methods? How should we function as a team? What skills are we missing? And trust us: these questions barely scratch the surface…

This has come with its share of challenges (fancy opening a company in a pandemic?), but giving ourselves the opportunity to go back to the drawing board and learn from our past is also what allows us to grow, adapt, and remain relevant.


2. Embrace the start-up vibe

Opening BIT France is also a bit like turning back time – going back to being a small team, all sitting in one room working (and living, and eating, and drinking…) together to identify opportunities, solve hard problems, and make BIT France thrive. 

And honestly, we’re counting our blessings, because it’s great fun to get to learn about the French policy landscape, meet fascinating people working around public innovation, and think through the policy questions where we can make a difference.

We are all conscious that decisions we make today will impact the direction BIT France takes for the next few years, and seeing each member of the team take ownership of this project has been amazing. 


3. Friends are key

BIT’s work is characterised by one thing: we can’t do it alone. And that’s even more true when setting up a new office.

Since we’ve started doing work in France, we’ve had the chance to interact and work with some great people who’ve made it all not only possible, but so much more fun. 

Existing organisations and researchers working on applied behavioural sciences have made us feel welcome in Paris, showing incredible openness and sharing lessons that have helped us grow and settle quickly. We’re thrilled to be part of this community, and to count many new friends amongst its ranks. 

But our work relies on our partners, who make it all possible. We thank all those who took a chance on Behavioural Insights; took the time to answer our million questions about their practices; accepted to rethink the way they work; organised fieldwork despite an ongoing pandemic; and taught us so much along the way.


4. Some clichés are right…

On a lighter note, we’ve also learnt that there are a plethora of clichés and stereotypes about working in France (Emily in Paris, anyone?). In our first few months here, we’ve noticed that a few of these are based in – at least some – truth (though N < 20 🤷‍♀️). Amongst others, France has a much healthier work / life balance than in the UK:

  • Long sit-down lunches are the norm. Trying to book meetings over lunchtime (entre midi et deux) is the ultimate flag that you are a rookie. To illustrate, see just one example of a partner response after suggesting a 13:30 call: “En revanche, si on peut éviter le créneau entre 12h et 14h, ça serait parfait :)” (translation: if you could avoid the time slot between 12:00 – 14:00, that’d be perfect.”.


  • Everyone takes leave in August (and we mean, EVERYONE). Even our favourite local bakery (La Maison d’Isabelle – winner of the best croissant in Paris in 2018) shuts its doors for summer in August. If you try and send a group email during this month, be prepared for your computer to freeze when the OOOs come flooding in. In reality though, this means that (until we adopt this working habit), August is an amazingly quiet period in which we can properly put our heads down and get on with longer pieces of work.

Paris in August….

5. …but others couldn’t be more wrong.

Much like in the UK, public sector workers can often be the subject of fun in France. 

We all know the British stereotypes. The policy advisor who has the answer to everything. The veteran official with a religious devotion to forms and process. The frontline worker who has so much work, yet still manages to fit in 8 cups of tea a day. It suffices to put a French twist on these tired clichés, et voilà…

But in our experience, they couldn’t be further from the truth. 

We’ve been privileged to meet people from across the French public sector whose primary passion is not one of financial or personal gain, nor of an “easy life”, but of improving the lives of others. 

Whether it be from care home workers to doctors, teachers to career advisors, or the much-maligned administrators, we’ve been constantly humbled by the people we’ve met, the originality of their ideas, and the strength of their desire to see things improve. 

It’s a reminder both of the expertise that lies within the public sector, and of public servants’ ability to bring about change.

If we can help the fantastic people we’ve met have the most impact possible – and to put to bed the stereotypes which surround them – we’ll be happy.


6. As a team made up of both frogs et rosbifs, moving to Paris has been quite the adventure.

For Anysia, one of our Frenchies 🇫🇷 :

Everyone will be asking you how it feels to be back home, but you’ll quickly realise that you are not really sure how to answer that question because home is where the heart is. For a while, it’ll be in London, then it’ll be in Paris, then it will depend on which country has the best weather on a given day. What this means is that you will at times feel like a foreigner in your own country, playing catch-up with all the cultural references and learning (probably the hard way) that expressions you used in high-school are now a bit outdated. 

“J’ai pas entendu cette expression depuis le lycée !” (Translation: I haven’t heard this sentence since high-school…) is a sentence I’ve heard too many times now.

Nevertheless, you’ll readjust pretty quickly, I promise. You’ll stop feeling nostalgic over your favourite haunts in London, and will start to love sitting at terrasses and playing pétanque

But for Tom and Rosie – our resident Brits – it turns out old habits die hard 🇬🇧


7. Trying to change our habits from English to French is HARD.

We had great plans to change all of our internal comms – whether they be meetings, slacks, or WhatsApps – from English to French on day one of landing in Paris: a symbolism of our new birth, our transition to a truly French organisation. But despite our best efforts, this has not quite translated into reality. 

After a few months of back and forth, we’ve finally given in to our official company language: Franglish.

No matter how ‘bilingue’ we think we are, our brains will inevitably follow the path of least resistance (we’re only human, after all) and we end up thinking, writing and speaking to each other in a weird mix of both languages…

  • I’m in a meeting, je t’envoie my thoughts after
  • Sounds good, tant que ca te prend pas trop de temps
  • Please jump in si je dis des bêtises 
  • It all needs a proof read donc je reviendrai in a few hours

And don’t even get us started on translating our behavioural science jargon in French…

Although it does have the added bonus of helping us streamline our thinking, separating the useful jargon to be translated from the just jargon to be cut. 


8. The French government loves acronyms almost as much as we do. 

If your matching criteria is tendency to use acronyms, BIT and the French government are a match made in heaven. See for yourself, how many BIT and French civil service acronyms can you spot in this word search? 

Spoiler: we spotted at least 17, but that’s not to say there aren’t more in there…


9. France still loves fudge more than nudge (for now). 

According to Google Trends, it seems like only Champagne-Ardenne is more interested in nudge than fudge 🤷🏽‍♀️ (we always knew we had lots in common with the home of Champagne 🍾….)  

But fear not: our team is here to change that. We want to help grow the appetite for, and use of, behavioural science across France. So if you are part of the community, or you want to debate with us the merits of fudge vs. nudge, please get in touch: we’d love to talk!


10. There are always many more lessons left to learn.

Perhaps the most important lesson of them all is that there is no such thing as a “last lesson”.

Our first few months in Paris have made us feel very hopeful for the future, and we cannot wait to collaborate with many more of the fascinating people we’ve met, learning about and trying to tackle important issues affecting the lives of many. 

We realise how lucky we are to be able to say that in a time when many are struggling, and do not take this opportunity lightly. 

So here, we raise our (Champagne) glass to the next 10 years of BIT, in which we hope to be able to play our part bringing about positive, lasting social change.