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Designing interventions in partnership with the people who are going to deliver them

19th Dec 2012

One of Professor Thaler’s mantras is “we can’t do evidence based policy without evidence”. As a team, we are keen advocates of the use of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) in government. But when talking about our trials we are often confronted with the question: “How do you decide what to test?” Of course we make sure we read as much of the relevant behavioural science literature as possible before designing interventions. But applying what we’ve learned from the many great experiments run in academia is not always straightforward. There are, of course, practical constraints of a policy brief to be considered. Much of the interventions that we have worked on to date have needed to be woven into existing processes. Sometimes this means that we cannot find existing evidence that is directly relevant. Often the evidence base consists of experiments that are conducted within a different context, aimed at different populations or use different outcome measures. This makes a more compelling case for the use of RCTs to test the efficacy of interventions. As you’ll have seen from last Friday’s post, we’ve recently been conducting a series of trials with Job Centre Plus, designed to help people back into work. These trials in particular have exemplified some of the important lessons we have learnt since we were set up a couple of years ago. We visited the Job Centres many times, learning from the experiences and daily challenges of front-line staff. We undertook a comprehensive literature review of the evidence on employment, job search and motivation. We also worked with the Job Centre manager and the staff on the floor to think through how these interventions could most effectively be operationalised and received helpful feedback about how we should go about helping the staff to deliver them without undue burden. After all, the JCP advisors would have to use them every day. This helped us make our changes easy for the advisors and as effective as possible for the customers. By working together with the staff, starting small and being ready to change at short notice we were able to design an intervention that the staff felt ownership of while also building in some really exciting evidence based solutions.