Pushing the Frontiers of Behavioural Insights - Behavioural Exchange 2018

30 July 2018

Categoriesbehavioural insights unit, conference

Tagsacademics, behaviour change, conference, event

On 25 and 26 June 2018, Sydney played host to the International Behavioural Exchange Conference (BX2018) in Sydney. We reflect on how we will apply the key lessons arising from the conference

Cindy next to MartinParkinson CassSunstein

Organised by our counterparts in the Commonwealth, BETA, BX2018 brought together nearly 700 behavioural insights experts, policy-makers, academics, and practitioners from all over the globe to consider new frontiers in behavioural insights. 

You may not know this, but NSW BIU is one of the world’s earliest behavioural insights (BI) units. That means that as well as learning from others, we were able to share our experiences in applying behavioural science to public policy issues across a number of domains. In particular, Department of Premier and Cabinet Deputy Secretary Mary-Ann O’Loughlin presented on the BIU’s efforts to reduce domestic violence, and our Director, Dr Alex King, presented on ‘How to set up a BI Unit’. 

BX2018 - drawing of session 'How to set up a behavioural insights team'

Following the Conference, NSW BIU also hosted a range of side events, including: 

  • An International BI Teams Workshop, with guests from the Washington DC Policy Lab, World Bank and OECD amongst others
  • A Violence and Crime Roundtable, attended by Professor Anuj Shah and BIU’s Justice stakeholders with reps from WomenNSW, Victim’s Services Unit, NSW Police and the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR)
  • A Data Science and Machine Learning session, with Michael Sander (Chief Scientist for the Behavioural Insights Team) and data analysts across NSW government
  • A Gender Equity panel with Kate Glazebrook (CEO of Applied), Nicky Quinn (Behavioural Insights Team), Sarah Cooper (Work180), and Siobhan Brahe (Public Service Commission).

Violence and crime roundtable: Mary-Ann O’Loughlin, David Yokum, Anuj Shah and Anne Hollands


How we will apply key lessons

Some of the key messages that we took away from the conference might have great potential in extending the use of BI in NSW policy and service delivery.

Encourage consumers to make better choices

Professor Rick Larrick from Duke University showed how small financial incentives are not very motivating, while the mental barriers to taking action can be a big disincentive (‘mental friction costs’). Professor Larrick proposed the ‘CORE principle’ to overcome this barrier. This involves doing Calculations for consumers; using information to create meaningful Objectives people care about; providing Relative comparisons to other products; and Expanding the frame of comparison to be over a product’s lifetime.     

We are currently working on a number of projects addressing issues related to reducing the cost of living, and will look for opportunities to harness these lessons.

Cindy Wiryakusuma-McLeod

Get better outcomes for citizens by increasing focus on scaling positive BI applications

Worldwide, only a minority of successful BI trials have been fully scaled up (that is, tested strategies have been rolled out to broader populations). Dr Rory Gallagher from the Behavioural Insights Team, noted that the NSW Government has a better than average track record in scaling BI interventions. Key success factors for scaling are: sponsorship, costs, accountability, logistics, and evidence.

We are currently reviewing how we ensure successful trials are taken to scale in NSW to see if there is more we can do. BI interventions often have benefits beyond the immediate targeted behaviour, so it is useful to identify these and explore whether key learnings can be rolled out into other areas.

Members of BIU and BIT leadership team: Cindy Wiryakusuma-McLeod, Glenn King, David Halpern and Alex King

Improving economic opportunities for NSW citizens

Professor Michael Hiscox from Harvard University suggested BI could focus on specific groups struggling financially, such as improving financial decision-making among low-income cohorts. Jayne Russel from the New Zealand Ministry of Social Development discussed one such approach. Using machine learning to identify financially vulnerable groups, her team was able to tailor case management using BI to improve these clients’ situation. Professor Cass Sunstein, from Harvard University, also argued that BI as a discipline could do better outreach with disadvantaged populations and broader society by creating a ‘bill of rights.’ The bill would address ethical practices, such as improving informed consent, promoting individual rights, and better meeting the interests of individuals, through greater transparency about how policy shapes choices.

We are committed to transparency through publication of our Annual Report and other resources we provide on our website. There may also be value in developing (in collaboration with other BI teams in Australia) a national code of conduct. We are also considering how BI interventions in other places could improve the lives of vulnerable people in NSW. 

Mary Ann O'Loughlin

Explore new frontiers of BI to get better results

The theme of the conference was ‘New Frontiers.’ Drawing on neuroscience, Professor Jakob Howhy from Monash University addressed opportunities arising from predictive coding, as well as how we can ‘retrain’ neural pathways to form productive habits. Neuroscience has not had as much impact on the application of BI as psychology or behavioural economics, but it is an exciting field and definitely one to watch for the future.   

If you’re interested to read more about the Conference, here’s a summary put together by BETA.

BIU team member Eva Koromilas with Cass Sustein and David Halpern