"In 2012, the New South Wales Department of Premier and Cabinet brought in one of the UK’s senior nudgers, Dr Rory Gallagher, to help establish its own taskforce, where he remains as managing adviser.
The NSW Behavioural Insights Unit now claims impressive results of its own. Last month, it hosted the first ever international BI conference in Sydney. Several hundred delegates joined leading academics and practitioners in the emerging field — almost exclusively from the UK, the United States, Singapore and Australia — to discuss ways of gently nudging citizens by exploiting their cognitive biases, rather than coercing them.
“What we’re trying to do is design and deliver government services around the way people actually behave,” Gallagher explained.
Based on the nudge unit’s trials, the NSW Office of State Revenue is rolling out new penalty notices and reminders that are forecast to get an extra $10 million worth of fines paid on time each year, saving $80,000 in printing costs alone. The people encouraged to pay on time are expected to avoid about $4 million in extra penalties.
At Westmead Hospital, the nudge unit helped increase the number of emergency in-patients who use their private health insurance by two percentage points. At Auburn Hospital, the same techniques tripled the number of patients using their private cover and, when used in two more local health districts, are expected to nudge the state’s bottom line to the tune of $11 million.
A trial of ways to nudge injured employees back to work sooner finishes up this month. So far, those in the trial group have been back to full capacity 27% faster than the control group, and are three times as likely to have completed their claims within 30 days.
“Unless we run robust evaluations we will never know if we’re successful and we don’t want to get into that mindset of just picking stuff up from the behavioural literature, dropping it into policy interventions and assuming it will work,” Gallagher warned.
“It’s not easy to translate a pure theory or approach from academia straight into your public policy system and that is another reason why we’re always keen to run robust trials. We have an experimental approach, which focuses on continuous improvement and learning.”