Insights from BX2015 Conference

24 September 2015Simon Raadsma


Tagsbehavioural insights unit, bx2015

Members of the BI Unit were fortunate enough to travel to London for Behavioural Exchange 2015. The prominent line-up of speakers was reflected by the fact that over 900 representatives from academia, government and private sector attended the Conference. Simon Raadsma shares his reflections about the Conference.

Richard Thaler and Danny Kahneman at BX2015

Amity Durham, Rory Gallagher and I were fortunate enough to travel to London for Behavioural Exchange 2015. It was hugely gratifying to see how the conference we established in Sydney last year has evolved,  with some of the greatest minds in behavioural science  coming together to share the latest research and policy ideas . The prominent line-up of speakers was reflected by the fact that over 900 representatives from academia, government and private sector attended the Conference.

From a practitioner’s perspective, there was lots of useful information and evidence that came out of the conference and here are a couple of my personal highlights:

  • Richard Thaler opened the Conference and spoke about how governments need to develop a culture which is willing to test and build the evidence base for what works. In doing so he said that many trials will fail, however this needs to be accepted as part of the process. He also spoke about the fact that if we are to remember one thing about influencing behaviour, it is that we need to ‘make things EASY for people’!
  • Sam Kass, former White House Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition and Brian Wansink, author of Slim by Design (2014), spoke in the ‘An Appetite for Change’ session which focused on obesity. Perhaps the key take home message was that eating is a mindless act - we often do not know what we like and what we do when it comes to food. Therefore it is easier to change food environments than it is to change minds, and they made several practical suggestions for improvements. The home environment is an important place to start by doing things such as making fruit readily available, stopping buying unhealthy snacks and managing portion size through smaller plates and cups. They also said that there is a lot that we can learn from how the private sector markets ‘unhealthy food’ and applying it to make fruit and vegetables more attractive. Government can play a role in applying these principles to school cafeterias or working with supermarkets to help people make healthier decisions.
  • Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: Science and Practice (2003), presented in the ‘Words that Matter’ session which focused on the power of reciprocity in influencing behaviour. He said that the most powerful way to use reciprocity is for government to ‘go first’ and then ask for citizens to reciprocate – he used tax compliance as an example of one area where this approach could be used (e.g. highlight how tax revenue benefits them and the community). Furthermore, reciprocity can be magnified if it is meaningful, unexpected and personalised.
  • The ‘You are the Doctor session’ focused on how heuristics can help make clinicians highly efficient in high pressure environments such as hospitals, but can also lead to biases that can cause negative health outcomes for patients. A couple of examples provided were how ‘comission bias’ can lead to clinicians prescribing antibiotics when they know they will have no impact (e.g.  colds) or how ‘decision fatigue’ can lead to things such as a reduction in clinicians washing their hands. The conclusion of this session was that there is an opportunity to create tools that prompt, support and challenge clinicians at key decision points.

The Conference was also a great opportunity to network with academics and other government agencies from around the world that are setting up behavioural science teams such as ours. In fact the White House’s Social and Behavioural Sciences Team just released their first results report this week.

Clearly, the number one highlight of the conference had to be the team accepting the Global Practitioners Award for the work that the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet has achieved over the last two years. It was an honour to be recognised on an international stage. With the expansion of our team I look forward to seeing what we can achieve over the next two years!