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Nudge and Behavioural Insights

I was lucky enough to attend the recent IPAA 2012 Conference ( One of the presentations was by David Halpern (Director, Behavioural Insight Team at Cabinet Office). In this presentation, David identified a number of activities that his office was undertaking. The Behavioural Insights team is linked to the Nudge programs and Big Society. There is lots of information about these two on the internet if you want to look them up.

The Behavioural Insights team identifies its program as: “… a remit to find innovative ways of encouraging, enabling and supporting people to make better choices for themselves. The Team’s work draws on insights from the growing body of academic research in the fields of behavioural economics and psychology which show how often subtle changes to the way in which decisions are framed can have big impacts on how people respond to them.”

The presentation at the conference drew from successful examples of influencing behaviour. I found the presentation heartening. It is commonly stated and perhaps more commonly believed that it is very hard to our customers, stakeholders, the general public service to be motivated to implement good information management practices, or to even go out of their way to help themselves, let alone do anything to assist others. The work by BIT provided examples that indicate that substantial changes in behaviour can be achieved even in areas where this may seem surprising. For example: “Letters that encourage tax payment In February 2011, HMRC – supported by BIT – began a trial to establish the impact of altering the messages sent in letters to encourage tax debtors to pay tax owed. HMRC and BIT designed a suite of letters, which were sent to people owing self-assessment tax debts for the first time.  By April, the trial had achieved the following results: 


The messages identified for each control group that people: – nationally paid their taxes – within the local postcode paid their taxes – within the town paid their taxes Within each group the results were higher than the control group and greatest for the local community. Other examples demonstrated the importance of: – making messages, immediate, personal, simple and demonstrating consequences (both positive and negative) – understanding the causes for not undertaking action. One study indicated that the reason that many people didn’t insulate their roof areas, even though it was very cost effective to do so was because these areas are used for storage. Providing a program to encourage clearing out the roof areas, resulted in much greater insulation.

David Brown