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  • Report
  • 24th Jan 2019

The Behavioural Insights Team Annual Update Report 2017-18

The Behavioural Insights Team exists to improve people’s lives and communities. We work in partnership with governments, local authorities, businesses and charities, often using simple changes to tackle major policy problems.

Over the last eight years, the Team has grown from a seven-person unit at the heart of the UK government to a global social purpose company with offices around the world. Our work spanned 31 countries in the last year alone.

Our mission remains the same. We generate and apply behavioural insights to inform policy, improve public services and deliver results for citizens and society. We have a track record of success across a range of policy areas, from healthcare to humanitarian aid, and we increasingly work to scale up our successful interventions.

Our diverse portfolio of projects reflects the complexity of challenges that we address. These include results such as:

  • Tackling tuberculosis in Moldova: Tuberculosis remains one of the top ten causes of death worldwide. The condition is treatable, but depends on daily medication taken under the supervision of a doctor or nurse, which patients often struggle to keep up. We trialled a virtual version of this supervision to encourage people to complete their treatment. It nearly doubled observed adherence rates from 44 per cent to 84 per cent, increasing the chances of patients making a full recovery.
  • Better deals for energy customers: Many households don’t switch energy provider, even when it could save them money. Working with Ofgem, the UK energy regulator, to send letters to disengaged customers, we tripled switching rates from a baseline of one per cent. Customers who switched after receiving a letter saved on average £50 more than those who switched of their own accord.
  • Strengthening the Metropolitan Police against cyber attacks: Cyber attacks can have a devastating impact on public services but often start from a simple source: phishing emails. We worked with the Met to help protect their systems, using embedded training. Three months after this one-off, simple intervention, the training was still effective, with police officers 21 per cent less likely to fall for a phishing email.
  • Encouraging sustainable food choices: Our eating habits have a huge impact on the environment. Livestock production accounts for around 14.5 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions, directly driving climate change. In an online experiment we found that describing food as ‘field-grown’ rather than ‘meat-free’ made people twice as likely to choose vegetarian options. Our partner, the World Resources Institute, has replicated these results in UK cafes, and we are supporting them with a similar programme of work in the US.
  • Earlier treatment for cancer patients: Almost half the UK population will get cancer during their lifetime, but many people are diagnosed late. A series of letters to GPs increased early referrals to specialists by 9.6 per cent. If scaled up in England, this intervention could increase likely survival rates and potentially save the NHS £20m in just six months.
  • Increasing public understanding of economics: We worked with the Bank of England to redesign their inflation report – using simple, relatable visuals – which improved comprehension by over 40 per cent, and increased trust in the information at the same time.
  • Boosting early tax returns in Indonesia: Timely tax revenue is essential for the functioning of government and public services. Working with the Indonesian Tax Authority to contact 11.2 million taxpayers, we ran our largest randomised controlled trial and increased early filing by 6 percent.
  • Encouraging more trainee teachers to work in rural areas: Teachers play the biggest part in a student’s education, but schools in remote or rural areas in Australia often struggle to recruit them. By replacing a paper application form with a pre-filled online version and issuing timely prompts to applicants, we encouraged three times as many trainee teachers to apply for rural placements.
  • Helping businesses close the gender pay gap: We worked with the UK government to publish evidence-based guidance for businesses, helping them to better recognise and unlock the potential of all employees, regardless of gender.

We have now run more than 780 projects to date, including 400 randomised controlled trials in dozens of countries. This year saw the first outputs of our in-house machine learning and Data Science team, applying these approaches to improve public services.

Our growing portfolio of BI Ventures makes behavioural science-backed tools available to a wider range of organisations and challenges. Applied, an online recruitment platform created within BIT to eliminate bias from hiring, has now been used by over 70,000 job applicants.

In addition to our own interventions, we aim to share expertise and support others. Our staff have conducted over a thousand workshops and training courses for governments around the world, training 20,000 civil servants and practitioners in behavioural insights. We have also launched an Executive Education programme with Warwick Business School.

We believe any organisation working to apply behavioural science has a responsibility to be open and transparent. We publish our work in detailed briefings on particular policy areas, in peer-reviewed academic publications, and through regular blog posts on our website.