Community of Practice: In Conversation with David Halpern
On Wednesday 22 November, the BIU Community of Practice hosted a panel discussion for senior public servants.
The panel featured Dr David Halpern, Chief Executive of the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), Mary Ann O’Loughlin, Deputy Secretary, NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC), and Michael Coutts-Trotter, Secretary of NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACS). The panel discussed the current application of behavioural insights in public policy in Australia and around the world.
Dr Halpern spoke about a recent education trial, in which students nominated up to two ‘study supporters’ to receive regular text messages about their course throughout the year, with nominees including family, friends and employers. The messages highlighted key events, such as upcoming tests, or updated the supporter on what the student was learning in class. In addition, they made it easier for study supporters to engage with the learner by suggesting questions they could ask to prompt a learning conversation. The intervention cost less than £10 (A$17) per student over the year but had a dramatic effect on attainment. Students receiving the messages were 27 percent more likely to pass their final exams in maths and English.
The BIT is also using Artificial Intelligence and machine learning to improve Random Controlled Trials (RCTs). Details of BITs work in the space is outlined a new report by the Team: Using Data Science in Policy (PDF, 5.61 MB).
Mary Ann O’Loughlin agreed with Dr Halpern’s ambition of behavioural insights having a greater impact on public policy; moving beyond encouraging people to pay fines paying on time or getting people to go to the gym. Ms O’Loughlin pointed specifically to the work of the BIU, where the Unit is focusing on reducing domestic violence reoffending using behavioural insights to tackle this and other complex policy areas.
Meanwhile, Michael Coutts-Trotter also shared his enthusiasm for using BI in complex policy areas, mentioning the joint FACS and BIU rental arrears trial.
BIU partnered with the FACS Customer Service and Business Improvement Unit to test whether sending text messages to tenants would encourage them to pay their rental arrears or set up a payment plan in order to exit arrears faster, than those who just received a letter. Sending a text message to tenants significantly increased the likelihood that they will exit arrears within a week compared to people in the control group who were not sent a message.
Often policymaking is built upon incorrect assumptions of human behaviour, resulting in policy failure. Behavioural insights, by comparison, is trying to build cumulative knowledge of human behaviour to advise policymakers now and into the future. The examples discussed by the panel offered a sense of how behavioural insights are currently being used by government and their potential policy applications in the future.
BIU will be hosting more CoP events in 2018. If you are interested in attending, sign up to our newsletter for updates and information.