MINDSPACE - Applying Behavior Modification
This section explains how policy-makers put MINDSPACE into practice, using a simple structured process. Traditional ways of changing behaviour, such as legislation, regulation, and incentives, can be very effective. MINDSPACE does not attempt to replace these methods. Rather, it extends and enhances them, adding new dimensions that reflect fundamental, but often neglected, influences on behaviour.
In basic terms, MINDSPACE represents the tools for changing behaviour, and the 6 Es constitute the framework within which they can be applied. Bringing these considerations together into a coherent narrative will allow policy-makers to turn theory into practice and develop policy that goes with the grain of people’s behaviour (see diagram).
Understanding whose behaviour you are changing
Any attempt to change behaviour needs to understand the behaviour it wishes to change.MINDSPACE explains the robust effects that underpin human behaviour, derived from our increasing understanding of how contextual cues affect us. However, our behaviour is also affected by a more conscious and considered understanding of our needs, desires and priorities. Recognising these various influences is crucial, given the complex environment in which people make decisions
Start from ‘where people are’ Government needs to “enable” behaviour change by recognising the practical and structural barriers that people face.
Policy-makers should remember that the contexts in which people find themselves shape the options that are available to them and affect their ability to select these options. Attempts to encourage behaviour change that do not recognise these contextual factors are likely to breed frustration only. For example, there is little point attempting to encourage people to wash clothes at 15°c if most people’s washing machines do not have this option. Government can help people surmount these barriers, but only if they are recognised.
Applying MINDSPACE to change behaviour
Broadly speaking, Encourage covers the policies and government actions that (directly or indirectly) try to change how people act. The 6Es diagram features the main ‘traditional’ attempts to influence behaviour - legislation, regulation, incentives, and information – many of which are effective.
MINDSPACE can add a lot to these policies. But that does not mean that “behaviour change” can be understood as simply a novel alternative to, say, legislation. As noted before, the majority of what government does is intended to change behaviour in some way. Rather, civil servants need to better understand the behavioural dimension of their policies and actions. MINDSPACE can help them do so in three different ways:
• Enhance. MINDSPACE can help policy-makers understand how current attempts to change behaviour could be improved – for example, how the impact of incentives can be enhanced by a better understanding of how people respond.
• Introduce. Some of the elements in MINDSPACE are not used extensively by policy-makers, yet may have a considerable impact. For example, there is room for more innovative use of social norms and commitment devices in policies.
• Reassess. Government needs to understand the ways it may be changing the behaviour of citizens unintentionally. It is quite possible that the state is producing unintended – and possibly unwanted – changes in behaviour. The insights from MINDSPACE offer a rigorous way of assessing whether and how government is shaping the behaviour of its citizens.
The diagram shows how the various actions fit together, but it does not offer a comprehensive overview of every element of the policy-making process. Rather, it highlights areas which need extra attention, or a modified approach, in order to change behaviour effectively.
Facilitating public debate and gaining approval
Behaviour change can be controversial, involve difficult tradeoffs, and concern areas where government legitimacy is controversial. These questions are both tricky and of general concern to the public. Therefore, new methods of engaging the public may be needed to explore what actions are acceptable or to gain explicit permission for a proposed change in behaviour. COI have recently published a guide to Effective public engagement that offers helpful guidance in this area
Changing government’s behaviour
In most behaviour change interventions, exemplifying desired changes is important for two main reasons. First, because the actions of high-profile representatives of government send implicit messages about behaviours it condones. If government is not displaying the behaviours it is encouraging in others, this will act against people’s desire for reciprocity and fairness (see ‘Commitment’), while inviting charges of hypocrisy. Second, government policy should not give mixed messages about whether certain types of behaviour are encouraged or not. Just as individuals seek consistency (as shown in ‘Ego’ effects), there needs to be consistency in the behaviour of government and its representatives.
MINDSPACE suggests a third dimension: its principles can be applied to improve the process of policy-making. In other words, government attempts to change its own behaviour. Does the status of the messenger sometimes outweigh the strength of the message? Do loss aversion and mental accounting prevent innovative reallocation of budgets?
Furthermore, MINDSPACE could be applied to the process of achieving organisational change in government. There are some obvious ‘easy wins’ here, such as lowering the default temperature in buildings to meet SOGE emissions targets, or using Ego effects to lift employee engagement.
Working out what works
Some of the factors that influence behaviour are fairly obvious and easy for government to influence; others are more elusive and require tradeoffs. And while the evidence for the effects in MINDSPACE is very strong, it can be unclear how the various effects will interact in specific cases. Behaviour change policy needs to understand the complex range of factors that affect behaviour, and good evaluation is a crucial way of doing so.
Although there will always be a healthy tension between evidence-based policy and innovation-based policy, our collective mission should be evidence-based innovation. In other words, we should take what we know to be robust phenomena across a range of contexts and give them the best shot of success where the evidence base does not exist.