Government & Society
A strong and thriving society is one where the bond between citizens and their government is built on mutual trust and understanding.
We work to embed a clearer understanding of human behaviour at the heart of policymaking while helping people make better decisions for themselves to strengthen this social bond.
Our work includes applying behavioural insights to improve how citizens interact with government and public services. Through these efforts, we aim to help reduce violence, improve gender equality, increase charitable giving, build more connected communities and support people struggling with loneliness.
Writing a moral code for the online world
Behavioural insights for community-based organisations
Data, evidence and evaluation capacity-building
Technology has fundamentally changed the way young people grow, learn and interact.
Every decision to pick up a mobile phone, post an image, reach out to a friend, or ‘pile on’ when someone has posted a controversial statement, can have huge and long-lasting consequences. How we choose to help young people navigate through these choices will shape society for many years to come. The COVID-19 pandemic has only served to intensify this need but sadly, current resources and programs fall short.
Using BI to solve complex issues
Complex issues like ethical behaviour require deep understanding from the perspective of the people involved. To do this we have consulted and collaborated with young people over the duration of the project, including via a citizen’s jury and design sprint with over 60 representative young people across Sydney.
“VFFF is especially pleased that young people are at the centre of this program, informing its development, providing honest feedback and bringing a balanced perspective to the debates that often occur without their voice”. – Jenny Wheatley, Chief Executive Officer, Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation
What others do changes what we do
What young people told and showed to us, was that a key mechanism shaping their ethical behaviour is their perception of what their peers are doing. This should not have been too surprising, we know that social norms affect adult’s behaviour and we warn young people about the dangers of peer pressure.
We also found that many of the ethical dilemmas that young people found themselves in were ambiguous and it wasn’t clear what the norms were. The rapid pace of technological change often leaves moral codes for new spaces unwritten, so young people look to each other.
The culmination of our research was the development of an 8 week in-school program called Digital Compass, which uses the power of social norms, along with other evidence based mechanisms, to support behaviour change in young people. Crucially the program helps young people work out what they can do online instead of just telling them what they can’t, a criticism of existing programs by many of the young people and schools we spoke to.
During the program young people enthusiastically engage in debate around what online behaviours are considered okay and not okay; exploring the nuance and having profound moments of realisation that perhaps one of the things they had been doing online in fact was not okay, and most people don’t do it. This realisation provides them the opportunity to correct their own behaviour to be more in line with the agreed norm.
Young people have told us that they often want to challenge how their peers behave online but this is difficult to do alone and unsupported. Digital Compass is facilitated in a way that creates a safe space for young people to discuss these challenging moral issues with their peers and scaffolds the discussion with an ethical framing to help young people agree with their peers what is ok and not ok online. As everyone has had a stake in deciding what is right and what is wrong, they have a stake in living their life by it.
Are you influenced by what others think?
Digital Compass is focused on young people and their use of technology, however we know that adults too are struggling to navigate ambiguous ethical scenarios online. We invite you to participate in a social norms activity very similar to one run in Digital Compass. Tell us if these commonly experienced online behaviours are mostly okay or not and once you have made your judgement, you will see how your views compare to other adults who have completed the activity.
Try it out, you might be surprised by what others think is ok and not ok online and whether your views are in line with the majority.
Social care covers a huge range of services and sectors. Two major UK projects in recent years show how BIT is helping to support this diverse and often overlooked sector.
Child fostering services in Bristol
Fostering services in Bristol and elsewhere do their best to support foster carers in their challenging roles, but it can be difficult to provide help at the right time and make foster carers feel supported.
BIT received funding from Bristol City Council to identify ways to support foster carers more effectively through the application of behavioural science. Based on qualitative research and a scan of the relevant academic literature, we identified a range of potential applications.
Given the service’s priorities, we developed a social support intervention where new foster carers were asked to nominate a family member or friend as a supporter. Both parties received regular text messages that aimed to encourage and normalise regular check-ins with the aim of making foster carers feel more supported.
Carers in Essex
Around 145,000 carers across Essex provide vital support to friends or relatives who need help with daily living. If carers do not access support, this can lead to carer breakdown with poor outcomes for both carer and care recipient and high costs for statutory services.
BIT and Essex County Council worked together to develop a light-touch, preventative offer of support for carers across Essex who experience a range of barriers to living their best possible lives. These barriers included:
- Identifying as a carer. Many carers fail to recognise their role as a carer or the strain caring has on them. Irrespective of whether they are aware of their situation, many carers fail to access support because they are not aware of what support is available.
- Living well as a carer. Carers who access support could receive more effective help. There are peer support groups across Essex, but not everybody can or wants to access these. There are missed opportunities in terms of connecting carers with each other and helping them to manage their own wellbeing.
We developed interventions to help tackle each of these challenges.
In 2020, BIT published the first ever London-wide assessment of violent crime. Commissioned by the Mayor of London’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), the report looks at trends over time, incorporating the thought leadership of leading academics and the voices of communities in London.
As well as capturing large-scale patterns of behaviour, the report sets out how the VRU and its partners can respond to drivers of violence. It also presents a framework to help develop solutions to reduce violence in the long term based on BIT’s approach and what works in practice.
The report combines existing research and future insights with the goal of enabling the VRU to make commissioning decisions based on a good understanding of what we do and do not know.
Burglaries per 100 households over the past eight years: Lower Super Output Area, Greater London
Monthly knife crimes in London between 2011 and 2019
Promoting safer driving is relevant and desirable for governments everywhere. Accidents caused by dangerous driving impose huge costs on people and societies, both personal and economic. At least for now, no vehicle can move without being under the control of someone so addressing unsafe behaviours can deliver enormous benefits.
Using a behavioural lens to examine this issue requires seeing some aspects of dangerous driving not a deliberate intent to break the law but rather as the consequences of biases, such as lower risk perception and habit. Reframing dangerous driving from a behavioural angle in this way allows us to explore ways to encourage safer driving that address these biases, for example making penalties more salient, emphasising the consequences of drivers’ actions or highlighting the certainty of being caught rather than just the severity of the punishment.
In Singapore, BIT has been working with the Ministry of Home Affairs to raise compliance rates regarding paying traffic fines and increase road safety. This has been done through a process of continuous iteration and improvement of ‘Notice of Traffic Offence’ communications.
This has included work to emphasise the consequences of offenders’ actions, highlight expected behaviour, and simplify both language and payment options. Our initial randomised controlled trial was successful in increasing fine payment rates and this success continued in a scaled-up project. Further testing is currently in progress.
Across Canada, a wide range of vital social services are delivered by community-based organisations with support from government funders.
These organisations are often small, stretched thin and heavily scrutinised. This provides little opportunity to develop new capabilities and service models, or for the organisations to evaluate their own work.
At the same time, these organisations offer some of the very best opportunities to generate social impact through behavioural insights. They have deep, sustained and trusting relationships with people in their communities, and they often serve residents who are experiencing severe scarcity of time and resources.
The question is how to embed rigorous behavioural insights into their programming given these significant limitations.
BIT Canada is working with United Way Halton and Hamilton to start answering this question, with generous support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and Employment and Social Development Canada. We are engaged in a multi-year effort to demonstrate the value of behavioural insights at the community organisation level (with a focus on financial empowerment). This work will also involve building up sectoral capacity across the region and establishing a model for ongoing behavioural insights work – without the need for BIT at the helm.
We’re just getting started, but we’ve already had meaningful success. A small, pilot randomised controlled trial with the Oak Park Neighbourhood Centre (OPNC) showed that using ’active choice framing’ was correlated with a four-fold increase in OPNC members engaging with a free tax-filing service. This service is often worth thousands of dollars in otherwise unclaimed benefits.
Governments achieve better outcomes for citizens if they can use evidence and data effectively.
Since 2015, BIT North America has worked with 67 cities across the United States to run 120 randomised trials, thanks to the What Works Cities programme, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies. In doing so, we have built the capacity of these cities to make better, more evidence-based decisions, and understand the impact of their choices.
Building on this work, several cities have now started their own teams based on the BIT model, embedding this approach sustainably for the future.