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BIT Review 2020-2021

Welcome to the latest Behavioural Insights Team Review. Here you will find a selection of our work in a wide variety of fields from around the world over the course of 2021 and 2022. Please select the headings below to explore further the impactful and pioneering work of the team over the last two years.

Click below to read more on:

  • Introductions from BIT Chair Ravi Gurumurthy & CEO David Halpern
  • 10 of our most impactful projects from the last two years
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The Behavioural Insights Team is a global leader and pioneer in applied behavioural science. We work around the world with governments, companies, funders and others who share our vision of bringing a deep understanding of human behaviour to improve people’s lives and communities.

This report features a wide variety of BIT’s recent projects from around the world across the many areas we work in to deliver social impact.

Highlights include promoting green pensions which has the potential to deliver an additional £252 billion in green investments, re-designing food takeaway services to encourage healthier choices which could cut over 40 billion calories a year from UK eating habits, reducing people’s vulnerability to online scams by half, helping many thousands avoid gambling harms, creating countless more flexible jobs every year, and many more.

We also feature examples of projects and interventions that didn’t work, that failed to have the impact we hoped for or expected. Learning from such disappointments is just as important as celebrating those that worked to ensure we are continually improving in how we drive social impact.

Explore our latest work on:

  • Business productivity
  • Flexible working
  • Equality, diversity & inclusion
  • Gambling policy & research
  • Online shopping scams
  • Youth unemployment
  • Panic buying
  • And more
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It is a deep irony that, of all policy areas, behavioural economics has been little applied to economic policy. This omission means that policies such as taxes, subsidies and regulation are less effective than they can and should be and policymakers are without other classes of policy levers entirely.

Behavioural effects shape the way individuals make economic choices about what to buy, where to work and where to live. Behavioural factors can help explain why markets don’t weed out exploitative and inefficient practices and get stuck in a bad equilibrium.

BIT’s major 2020 economic policy report, The Behavioural Economy, sets out a roadmap for how governments, regulators and central banks can use behavioural science tools and approaches in economic policy.

In the last two years BIT has also launched a multi-year gambling policy research programme and published the results of the flagship ‘Gender and Behavioural Insights’ (GABI) research programme, working with the UK Government Equalities Office to investigate what works to improve gender equality in the workplace.

Our economy teams have also been working on issues as diverse as how to protect consumers from online scams, avoiding panic buying, helping people claim their tax benefit entitlements and supporting disabled job seekers.

Explore our latest work on:

  • School attendance & making up for lost time
  • Young people and online ethics
  • Closing the gap in early education
  • Sharing learning tips by text
  • Student wellbeing during the pandemic
  • And more
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Education has always been a priority issue for citizens and societies around the world. While the COVID-19 pandemic put even more strain on education systems, parents and students, it also drove a rapid acceleration in the use and understanding of online learning, which may change the way people teach and learn for the long-term.

In addition to the need for many students to catch up this lost learning time, the ongoing challenges facing education systems require thoughtful and creative programme design along with holistic support. In this section of the report, we highlight promising studies focused on improving various elements of education. This includes increasing attendance and educational attainment, encouraging healthy online behaviour, and how to orient students to online environments.

One recurring theme is the value of personalisation. From texting parents to encourage them to help their preschooler do online learning, to tools that  foster strong relationships between tutors and pupils, people respond to messages and programming tailored to them and their needs. 

While the world continues to recover from the pandemic, special attention should be paid to cultivating strong educational outcomes – especially for those with fewer resources or who are otherwise disadvantaged. In particular, we encourage researchers and practitioners to focus on emotional health and well-being, positive online practices, and nurturing student growth, in addition to efforts to increase educational attainment.

Explore our latest work on:

  • Economic mobility
  • Reducing speeding in San Francisco
  • Increasing court attendance in New Zealand
  • Safe and fuel-efficient truck driving
  • Help for migrant domestic workers
  • And more
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In this section of our Review we look at the work BIT teams do to improve the lives of people and communities from a societal perspective. This ranges from supporting vulnerable populations and boosting democratic engagement, to making judicial systems more effective and bringing divided societies together. 

Over the past two years, great strides have been made in this area. In Singapore BIT worked to help vulnerable domestic workers by engaging with them to understand their needs, while in the UK BIT broke new ground to bridge political divides through our involvement in the ‘Britain Connects’ initiative.

In the US BIT has collaborated extensively with Bloomberg Philanthropies as part of the What Works Cities initiative, launching multiple interventions to help US cities become more resilient, increase economic mobility, protect public health, and increase resident satisfaction.

People and socieites are of course highly complex and not all of our proposed solutions or ideas work. In this section for example we look at work we did that failed to increase the willingness of UK landlords to rent properties to tenants on means-tested benefits. This was clearly a disappointing result, but nonetheless delivered important insights which can hopefully help shape more positive outcomes in the future.

Explore our latest work on:

  • BIT & COVID-19
  • Healthier take-away food
  • NHS procurement
  • Workplace wellbeing
  • Antimicrobial resistance in New Zealand
  • Delivery driver safety
  • Bipolar Disorder diagnosis
  • And more
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Across the world healthcare systems face multiple pressures, from ageing populations to antimicrobial resistance. The COVID pandemic stretched resources even further highlighting weaknesses in need of urgent attention such as staff recruitment, retention and long waiting lists for appointments. 

This is set against a backdrop of increasingly damaging environments, with unhealthy foods, cigarettes, alcohol and other harmful substances easily available to – and often, even marketed directly at – those most vulnerable. 

But there is hope. Working closely with governments, public health bodies and charities, BIT uses behavioural insights to improve public health policy and healthcare systems, finding ways to encourage people to make healthier choices for themselves and make the healthcare they rely on more accessible and affordable. 

Looking forward, our health and wellbeing teams are building an approach which is collaborative, is corroborated with evidence, and importantly, is courageous. To address society’s biggest challenges, we must partner openly with healthcare services, charitable organisations, and government departments, drawing on best practice examples from new and innovative areas. We must be driven by existing evidence, and robustly evaluate our ideas.

Finally, we must be brave – unafraid to try new things and to iterate when presented with new information, open to criticism, and fearless in our pursuit of social impact.

Explore our latest work on:

  • Peace building in Nigeria
  • Active bystanding in Bangladesh
  • Reducing single use plastics in the Pacific
  • Tiger-proof fences in Indonesia
  • Women's economic empowerment in Japan
  • Training school leaders in Guatemala
  • Tackling intimate partner and gender-based violence
  • And more
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BIT’s first international projects took place in early 2014, in Australia, shortly followed by Guatemala. Since then we have worked on behaviourally-informed projects in over 75 countries across Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Middle East and Europe and now have offices across multiple continents including in Mexico, Indonesia, Canada, France and Singapore alongside our established centres in Australia, the UK and the US. 

This rapid growth of BIT’s international portfolio has enabled us to reach much broader audiences to tackle increasingly complex challenges. Notable successes include our work on gender-based violence in Latin America and peacebuilding in Nigeria, but at the same time, we have learned that not all challenges can be solved by light-touch solutions alone, especially when it comes to making systemic changes. 

What this highlights is the increasing demand for solutions that are informed by human behaviour and pragmatism, evaluated through rigorous mixed-methods approaches and provide tangible actions that help to inform policy and implementation. It also underscores the need for collaboration with local partners and policy experts to achieve sustainable behaviour change. 

In this section of our Review you’ll find a huge diversity of projects from many different parts of the world, but all are united by our approach that combines a rich understanding of behavioural science, a deep knowledge of specific public policy areas, and the necessary pragmatism to make things happen inside public administrations and complex contexts.

Explore our latest work on:

  • How TV can help with decarbonisation
  • Green pensions
  • Stopping greenwashing
  • Promoting heat pumps
  • Shifting commuter behaviour in Perth
  • Reducing commuter emissions
  • And more
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Behavioural insights often focus on the individual. That is, how to help people make better decisions for themselves. But individual actions, when taken together, can also affect change for all. This is especially relevant for the challenges of climate change and sustainability.

Climate change is already significantly disrupting nations and affecting lives, from more extreme weather events to rising sea levels. Without drastic action, these impacts will only worsen.

There is much we can all do, both individually and collectively, to achieve significant and impactful progress in dealing with these challenges. For example, a greater shift towards more balanced and sustainable diets, driving and flying less and improving our energy efficiency are all behaviours that will help reach the goal of a Net Zero environmental impact. In all of these choices and actions, as well as many others, behavioural insights have a powerful role to play. 

However, while behavioural science presents opportunities to reduce energy and resource demand, it also brings into focus the behavioural challenges of delivering these transitions. For example, local objections can delay renewable energy projects that have been prioritised at a national level, or some people may not retrofit their homes to make them more sustainable even when it makes good economic sense to do so because of issues such as friction costs or present bias.

In other words, behaviour change should be viewed holistically – as opportunities and challenges to overcome – not least because the task at hand is so large. We need transformative action to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. 

Explore more about the way we work:

  • Data science and artificial intelligence
  • Predictiv
  • Qualitative research
  • Synthetic Data
  • TESTS
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This Review rightly focuses on the projects and impacts that BIT’s teams have been working on around the world over the last two years.

However, we also feel it would be insightful to share more details on how we approach new challenges and projects.

In this section you can find more detail on some of our methods, tools and capabilities, including the increasing opportunities for us to bring data science, synthetic data and machine learning into our work. We look at one of our key methodological approaches, TESTS, and our research skills and platforms including qualitative research and our highly adaptable and powerful randomised control trial tool Predictiv.