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Applying behavioural insights in Asia’s city state

21st Jun 2017

We set up BIT Singapore nine months ago to continue our mission to deliver rigorous social impact across the world. Singapore’s Public Service is one of the most innovative and effective in the world. We have been fortunate enough to have experienced this first-hand in our joint work on financial adequacy, unemployment, tax compliance, and social cohesion over the past years. We set up a full-time office here so that we could better understand the cultural context of our work and to build a base for work across Southeast Asia.

True to the outward-facing, high technology nature of our new home, our Singapore office is testing new ways of working: using Agile project management as well as a range of new software solutions. We’ve also been able to trial cutting-edge behavioural interventions, for example by using data to segment and better target our communications, as in the below example from one of our first trials since the Singapore office’s inception.

Saving the Singaporean tax office time and money

In collaboration with the Public Service Division in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS), we tested whether behavioural insights could be used to accelerate tax payments from the few that fail to pay on time. This group was sent a ‘Demand Note’ letter, which we set about to try and improve.

In this trial, we could vary the new messages based on previous behaviours. IRAS can segment the population, for example, based on whether this was a first-time offence or whether the person in question had become a serial offender. This enabled us to run a series of tests, one for each customer segment, and test the ‘business as usual’ letters (which varied in severity) against a range of behaviourally-informed ones.

The redesigned letters increased payments within 44 days across each taxpayer segment – we found increases between 1.7 and 6.4 percentage points. The largest gains were made in the middle ground – those who had missed a few deadlines (i.e. not paid on time) in the past, possibly due to oversight. IRAS is planning on using the new letters next year.


We are also delighted that this month, the Government of Singapore hosts the fourth Behavioural Exchange conference – BX2017. This major international conference is a two-day event, bringing together leading experts and policymakers, academics, and practitioners in behavioural insights, to explore how they can create better and smarter policies that matter.

This year we are particularly excited about the sessions on data science which will showcase some amazing work by GovTech Singapore. BX2017 will also have dedicated sessions on public health and wellbeing, finance, communications, service delivery and enforcement.

BX2017 is now sold out. If you are lucky enough to have a ticket, we hope to see you there!