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  • 1st Feb 2019

Announcing the Business Basics Messaging Trials: Upcoming trials to help boost UK productivity

What if someone found a way to boost businesses’ productivity, but no one was around to hear it? A series of randomised controlled trials this year aim to prevent that.

Raising a country’s productivity can create shared prosperity and a better quality of life for all its citizens. But compared to its peers, the UK is not as productive as it could (or should) be. As the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy noted, it takes people in Germany four days to produce what people in the UK take five days to do.

Why is this? One reason — among others — is that not enough micro, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the UK adopt technologies and management practices that already exist.

To solve this problem, the Government’s Industrial Strategy created the Business Basics Programme. Business Basics is testing innovative ways of encouraging SMEs to adopt productivity-boosting technologies and business practices. Central to the programme is a fund that recently announced 15 projects that will share in £2 million, and a new competition endowed with a further £2 million. These projects will help build evidence on what works in driving up SME productivity. To find out more about Business Basics, click here.

However, without effective communication and encouragement, even the best-laid policies and plans can fail. For example, in 2013 only four people signed up to the Government’s flagship energy-efficiency ‘Green Deal’ scheme. And our previous work on business take-up of advice and government incentives finds that interventions are often held back by factors including poor awareness, complexity, limited manager time, and a lack of shared language between business and Government.

To make sure the initiatives to improve business productivity in Business Basics reach and are used by those who will benefit from them, BIT will run a series of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) to find out what works best in communicating with businesses to prompt them to take up initiatives to improve their performance.

The trials will run throughout 2019 are a ‘partnership program’ alongside the core Business Basics Programme. They seek to answer five questions:

  1. What behaviourally informed messaging framing is effective at encouraging SMEs to take action to improve productivity?
  2. Which messengers are effective at communicating messages about taking action to improve productivity?
  3. When is an effective time to communicate messages about productivity to SMEs?
  4. Which mode of communication (e.g. letter vs email) is most effective at conveying messages about improving productivity to SMEs.
  5. How do different recipients affect a message’s impact?

We will work with a number of intervention and delivery partners across the UK to cover thousands of businesses around the country. And where possible, we will investigate what works for the special subgroup of low productivity SMEs that make up the UK’s ‘long tail’ of such firms.

We’re excited about these trials for quite a few reasons. For one, the trials will explore how organisations (rather than individuals) can be nudged. Trials like these are still relatively rare and are one of the frontiers of behavioural science that we think “still need[s] a push”.

And the learnings from the project won’t just be academic. We hope the lessons learned from the trials will be helpful for policymakers and business support providers more generally.

If you’d like to learn more about this project, would like to chat to us about it, or would like to get involved, please do get in touch.

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