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The nudge comes to the Home Team – unlocking the potential of Behavioural Insights, a powerful strategy for achieving win-win outcomes.

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GRAPHIC: Home Team News

When it comes to enhancing policies and services in the Public Service, one of the strategies being employed by public agencies is Behavioural Insights (BI), more commonly known as “the nudge.” Simply put, BI harnesses evidence-based insights to come up with interventions that help us make better choices for ourselves. Recognising the potential of BI to score both small wins and transformational change, agencies such as the Land Transport Authority, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, the Ministry of Manpower and the Public Service Division have established their own BI teams in recent years.

The “Aha” Moment
According to Dr Lal Nelson, Director of the Research & Statistics Division at the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), his own introduction to BI was an “aha” moment. “I learnt about BI at a sharing session at the Civil Service College in 2013,” he recalled. “I immediately saw that BI could be applied to almost any part of the work that we do at MHA, and help to make our safety and security policies more citizen-centric.”

Formed in Jul 2015, MHA’s BI Unit first worked with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) on how to encourage members of the public to take part in the Community Emergency Preparedness Programme (CEPP). Other projects soon followed, and the team has since supported over 20 projects and trials, sparking even more “aha” moments.

Here are three things you should know about BI and how it’s being applied by the growing cohort of BI practitioners in the Home Team.

1. BI is About Understanding How People Really Behave
One challenge of designing and implementing policies is to encourage users to make better choices for themselves (which, incidentally, often also serve a greater good). The solution has traditionally been to offer users more information, in the assumption that doing so will induce them to make the rational choice.

Clearing our own trash, paying a fine, queuing up, not smoking in public – these are behaviours that we know are desirable and good, but which we may not necessarily do. Indeed, BI research has shown that most of the time, if we’re uncertain about an issue, we make impulsive, instinctive choices. This results in a lose-lose situation, one that benefits neither users nor the greater good.

BI offers a better alternative that’s based on how users actually make decisions. For example, in 2014, MHA’s BI Unit worked with the SCDF to encourage members of the public to sign up for the CEPP (while the programme is popular with schools and companies, few members of the public sign up for it on their own). Through a randomised controlled trial, the team found that they not only had to appeal to people to sign up, they also had to make it easier for them to do so.

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To study how BI could encourage more people to sign up for the CEPP, the team tested different BI interventions, including sign-up forms and reminder cards. PHOTOS: Home Team News

2. BI is Evidence-based
Central to the BI methodology is its focus on testing different approaches (through randomised control trials, for example), collecting data on them and assessing their impact. According to Dr Lal, this emphasis on tests, trials and measures gives BI an edge in coming up with strategies that really work. “The BI methodology allows us to test different interventions over time, and then collect evidence about which is the best one,” he explained. “That makes it a very good tool for evidence-based policymaking.”

3. BI is Already Making a Difference
MHA’s BI Unit has supported over 20 projects. “We started with those that offered quick and easy wins,” explained Dr Lal. “For example, by making slight changes to how we framed certain compliance letters, we got a reasonable shift in behaviour. This reaffirmed our belief that BI can improve the ‘last mile’ delivery of our policies and programmes.”

Having completed projects and trials with the SCDF, the Singapore Police Force, the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises and the Singapore Prison Service, Dr Lal is eager to apply BI to projects with a potentially larger impact. “Our early projects and trials yielded good lessons and helped us to build our BI capabilities,” he said. “Now, it’s about moving up one level and supporting projects where the outcome is a behavioural change that reduces harm to society, and saves lives.”

Here’s to more “aha” moments for MHA’s BI Unit!
© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.

  1. by Mike Tan
  2. 05 January 2018
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