You’ve heard of nudge theory and you have probably used elements of it in your own work. But how can you apply it to your next behavior change campaign?
by Shayoni Lynn
Hands up if you’ve been in any of these situations:
· Your friend bought the first round so you buy the second
· Your fellow passenger asks you to keep an eye on their bags. You're extra vigilant.
· You've booked a hotel based on TripAdvisor reviews
· You’ve arranged a 9am meeting so bring in cookies to sweeten the deal.
Chances are you’ve been in these (or similar) situations. If so, you’ve either been ‘nudged’ or you’re what David Halpern (head of the Behavioural Insights Team) calls an ‘accidental nudger’.
Behavioural science is too complex
Truth is, we live in a world of ‘nudge’. On a daily basis, we make hundreds of conscious and unconscious decisions; we persuade, negotiate and influence others’ behaviour both in our personal and professional lives.
At the heart of effective nudging is the principle. Test. Learn. Adapt.
The Behavioural Insights Team (commonly known as the Nudge Unit) was set up by David Cameron in 2010. Within two years, the Nudge Unit demonstrated that seemingly small changes could have big effects – from getting people to pay their tax on time to getting tens of thousands of people back to work faster.
I’m not running a behaviour change campaign. Can I use nudge?
You don’t need to be undertaking a behaviour change campaign to use behavioural science principles. Indeed, the beauty of testing means you will gain a better understanding of audience needs, motivations, and influences; you’ll be able to quickly identify what works and what doesn’t – and critically, why. For us, a behavioural approach has led to higher engagement, more effective participation, and even income generation.
How do I get started?
Start with understanding your behavioural needs. We use the Government Communication Service recommended COM-B model (capability, opportunity, motivation) for setting behavioural objectives and identifying barriers to desired behaviours.
Follow up with relevant interventions to start, stop or maintain behaviours. If you’re exploring behavioural science for the first time, a good start is the Nudge Unit’s own framework, EAST: Easy. Attractive. Social. Timely.
· Make your task easy to access: Simplify your message. Change the default (did you know? More than a million new savers had started pensions within six months of the introduction of auto-enrolment and by 2015, this simple change in default had led to more than 5m extra UK workers saving for their pensions). Reduce ‘friction costs’ or hassle (e.g. fewer clicks).
· The next step is to make it attractive: As David Halpern says: “to attract attention something has to standout”. In psychology, this is known as salience and it can be achieved through personalisation, relevance or contrast. Use colours. Introduce emotion (e.g. via images or in your narrative). Address individuals by name. Use expert voices. Consider adding financial or non-financial incentives.
· Optimise the power of networks to make yours a social activity: We are influenced by the behaviour of those around us and when harnessed properly, social networks and influence can be a powerful tool for behaviour change. Introduce peer recommendations. Highlight how many other people are performing your desired behaviour. Introduce reciprocity (it can be as simple as one person asking from another) and social commitment.
· Behaviour is easier to change around major life events, and therefore it’s important to ensure your message is timely: Intervene if possible before behaviours are set. Or identify key moments when behaviour is disrupted. Psychologist Robert Cialdini refers to this as ‘privileged moments’ where audiences are more receptive to messages – identify these and embed prompts to encourage desired behaviour.
Follow the EAST framework and you’ll be on your way to successful nudge comms. Don’t forget, however, Richard Thaler’s wise words: always “nudge for good”.
Shayoni Lynn heads up communications for Cardiff University’s alumni relations, fundraising and strategic partnerships programmes. She specialises in strategic data driven communications in higher education and behavioural science. You can connect with her on Twitter at @shayonislynn
References: David Halpern Inside the Nudge Unit, Robert Cialdini Influence and Pre-suasion, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein Nudge
Image via Michael Clark