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Press release

Saving lives, improving public services, and better deals for consumers

How simple insights based on human behaviour are making a big difference to public services around the world

24th Jan 2019

The Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) today releases its latest annual report, revealing its positive impact on issues ranging from health and wellbeing to cyber security.

BIT uses behavioural science to make small, cost-effective changes to improve lives and public services. Previous work has shown how even simple interventions can boost student pass rates, get people back to work faster, and or save millions from previously missed NHS appointments.

In the past year, BIT has conducted dozens of new and successful interventions in the UK and abroad, including:

  • Tackling tuberculosis: a virtual version of supervised medication almost doubled observed treatment adherence among patients in Moldova, increasing their chances of recovery from a disease that otherwise kills more than a million people a year
  • Better deals for energy customers: letters to disengaged customers tripled supplier switching rates, and helped individuals save an average £50 more than those who switched of their own accord
  • Protecting public services from cyber attacks: a programme of embedded training meant police officers were 21 per cent less likely to fall for a phishing email
  • Encouraging sustainable eating: an online experiment found describing food as ‘field-grown’ rather than ‘meat-free’ made people twice as likely to choose vegetarian menu options, reducing their environmental impact
  • Earlier treatment for cancer patients: letters to GPs led to a 9.6 percent increase in early referrals to specialists, increasing likely survival rates while also saving an estimated £20m over 6 months if scaled across NHS England
  • Boosting tax returns: BIT’s largest ever trial with over 10 million Indonesian taxpayers used emails to to increase early filing by 7 per cent, and overall filing by 2 per cent
  • Increased public understanding of economics: a simple, relatable redesign of the Bank of England’s existing inflation report increased comprehension by over 40 per cent

The Team has run more than 780 trials to date, including 400 randomised control trials in dozens of countries. Last year, the team worked in over 30 countries. It has offices around the world, in London, Manchester, New York, Singapore, Sydney and Wellington.

Dr David Halpern, Chief Executive of the Behavioural Insights Team, said:

“The Behavioural Insights Team was created to generate better policy and practice by designing services around people. Our latest results continue to prove that this leads to more effective, easier to use public services.”

“This year some of our most ambitious work took place overseas. A low-cost virtual intervention doubled the observed adherence rate for tuberculosis treatment, an important result for a disease that kills more than a million people a year. We also ran a trial with over 10 million people to boost tax payments in Indonesia, just one of our projects designed to share insights and improve outcomes in low-and-middle income countries.”

“Back in the UK the team’s interventions have boosted early referral rates to cancer specialists, reduced pressure on overbooked hospitals, helped police officers resist cyber-attacks, and more. Even with Parliament preoccupied, there is a lot government can do to help us be healthier, wealthier and safer.”

Oliver Dowden MP, Minister for Implementation said:

“Governments face no shortage of challenges. The work of the Behavioural Insights Team has brought fresh thinking and methods to what we do, and how we do it.”

“We can be proud of the UK’s role in pioneering an evidence-based approach to policy formation and service provision, and within it the role played by BIT. Policy and public services need to be built around citizens, not the other way round.”

Sir Mark Sedwill, Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service said:

“Any organisation that wants to be a world leader must constantly look beyond itself to learn, improve and innovate. The Behavioural Insights Team was created inside the UK Government and Civil Service to do just that.”

“BIT work has itself become world-leading, its approaches emulated both in UK departments and around the world. It is an approach that the Team continues to embody: outward-looking, intellectually rigorous, and actively building effective partnerships for social purpose.”

Cass Sunstein, co-author of Nudge and Robert Walmsley University Professor, Harvard University, said:

“The Behavioural Insights Team is an international treasure. This year’s report may be the most impressive yet, with remarkable progress toward reducing childhood obesity, helping victims of domestic violence, and reducing air pollution.”

“Not only in the United Kingdom but all over the world, people’s lives are better, and longer, because of the Team’s extraordinary work.”

Contact our press office for more information or to arrange an interview