Friday, April 26, 2024

The implications of behavioural science for effective climate policy (CAST)

The UK Climate Change Council council recently released this report that they commissioned from the the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations (CAST) at Bath. Details from their summary below. 

The eight key areas reviewed are:
  • Diet change – reducing high-carbon foods in people’s diets (e.g. meat and dairy).
  • Reducing end-user consumption – encouraging people to reuse and repair goods, recycle, and reduce food waste.
  • Aviation demand – reducing how much people fly.
  • Adaptation – adapting to a changing climate (e.g. extreme heat or flooding).
  • Net Zero skills and careers – helping people develop Net Zero skills and enter Net Zero careers.
  • Business leaders and the transition to sustainability – encouraging businesses to be more sustainable.
  • Land use and farming – increasing tree-planting on farmland.
  • Policy acceptability – increasing the public acceptability of climate policies.

Several areas were omitted where evidence is being collated as part of separate projects or has been collated elsewhere, such as surface transport, energy, and buildings.

In total, 336 academic papers and 62 non-academic reports (e.g. from government or charities) were reviewed. The review prioritised UK-based evidence but drew on international literature where UK evidence was lacking.

2. Key messages

In the eight areas reviewed, low-carbon and climate-resilient behaviours were primarily driven by:

  • An individual’s knowledge about a behaviour, their values, and emotions.
  • Social factors (e.g. what individuals perceive others do or expect of them, and which social groups individuals most identify with).
  • Practical factors (e.g. how difficult or expensive it is to carry out certain behaviours).

Most research explored how effective it is to provide people with information (e.g. about the impacts of certain diets). These information-based interventions tend to be less effective at changing behaviour compared to measures that make green choices and behaviours the default or shift social expectations (e.g. by the government or businesses demonstrating leadership or introducing new policies).

The focus in the evidence base on informational approaches has limited our understanding of whether some interventions are more effective than others, how varying social groups might respond differently to interventions, and how large-scale behaviour change can be achieved.

Overall, the report notes a need for clearer communication of climate policies and more public involvement in policy design. This may be achieved with the introduction of a dedicated public engagement strategy. There is also a need for policies that make low-carbon behaviours easier, cheaper, and more attractive, alongside regulations and incentives to shift behaviour. Generally, interventions are more likely to be successful when introduced in ‘moments of change’, when habits are disrupted and behaviour is more malleable.

The key findings and implications for each of the eight key areas are summarised below.

  • Reducing high-carbon foods in people’s diets (e.g. meat and dairy). Providing information about a food’s impact on one’s health, the environment, or animal welfare is not an effective way to change diets in isolation. Information-based interventions work best in combination with other approaches, such as making plant-based foods more available, convenient, attractive, and affordable. Policymakers may achieve this by making plant-based options more visible and the default in supermarkets and restaurants, alongside introducing financial incentives (e.g. reducing the price of plant-based foods).
  • Encouraging people to reuse and repair goods, recycle, and reduce food waste. People are more likely to reuse and repair goods (rather than buying new ones) if they have strong environmental values or perceive others to reuse and repair. However, a lack of relevant skills and low availability of repair services are key barriers. There is some evidence that financial incentives might be effective at encouraging recycling (e.g. getting money back for recycling), but more studies are needed to understand if incentives might be effective at encouraging people to reuse and repair (e.g. policies to reduce VAT on repair services). There are minimal real-world trials studying how to encourage people to buy fewer material goods. Policymakers may opt for a combined approach – providing useful information (e.g. skills training for repairs) and providing financial incentives (e.g. making repairs cheaper).
  • Reducing how much people fly. People are generally reluctant to reduce how much they fly, as flying is often linked to ideas about success, freedom, and identity. People’s concern about climate change does not necessarily mean they reduce how much they fly, but giving information about a flight’s emissions could lead consumers to choose more efficient flights. The public broadly supports taxes that make flying more expensive for frequent fliers (Frequent Flyer Levies), but such measures need to be accompanied by changes to legislation, and government leadership. It is important that policies aiming to reduce how much people fly are perceived as fair for all, and that the need to fly less is communicated consistently. Generally, research about the effectiveness of aviation policies is very limited.
  • Adapting to a changing climate. Most people know very little about how they can prepare for changes such as extreme heat, droughts, or flooding, making it important for policymakers to clearly communicate what types of behaviours are most effective in preparing for a changing climate. More research is needed to investigate if regulations can be effective in creating more climate-resilient buildings (e.g. regulations for planners), and helping people make changes to their homes (e.g. interest-free loans for homeowners). There is also a need for more research comparing the effectiveness of interventions for different types of risks (e.g. flooding compared to heatwaves), and further evidence about how to encourage people to change their behaviour in situations like heatwaves or droughts. Policymakers should therefore focus on delivering clear advice tailored to the type of risk, alongside other measures like financial incentives for homeowners. UK-based evidence in this area was limited, meaning more global evidence was used.
  • Helping people develop Net Zero skills and enter Net Zero careers. People know little about the type of skills that are needed to achieve Net Zero in the UK, making providing young people with information about Net Zero skills and careers an important first step in encouraging them to choose a green career. To achieve this, policymakers would need to give a clearer definition of what green skills and careers are alongside opportunities to develop these skills. Schools and businesses could play an important role in educating about Net Zero careers, but more evidence must test this.
  • Encouraging businesses to be more sustainable. Businesses are more likely to adopt sustainable business practices when managers are aware of climate change and its impacts. Policymakers may therefore seek to educate managers about sustainable business models. Alongside this, businesses often shift to more sustainable practices when consumers demand more eco-friendly products, and their competitors adopt sustainable practices. Market-based policies could be as successful as regulations, but more UK-based evidence in larger companies is needed to determine this.
  • Increasing tree-planting on farmland. Providing farmers with financial aid might encourage increased tree-planting. However, grants are often overly complex to apply for, limiting how effective they can be. Simplifying the grant application process could be a low-cost way of increasing grant uptake. The loss of control over land that comes with using grant money is also a concern for farmers. Policies that focus on providing examples of woodland creation by other farmers, and information campaigns and training about woodland creation are likely to be effective, especially when focusing on the profitability of creating new woodland, and engaging the wider farming community.
  • Increasing the public acceptability of climate policies. The public generally favour policies that provide grants or subsidies (known as pull measures) over bans and regulations (push measures). However, there are factors that tend to increase support across a variety of policies. People are more supportive of policies that they perceive as effective and fair for all. It is also important that the policy decision-making process is viewed as transparent, and that policies are implemented by trusted leaders. Policies should be designed in line with these principles. Providing information about other benefits (e.g. for people’s health) and involving the public in designing policies can also increase support. Grouping policies in ‘bundles’ may also bolster support, but further research is needed to test this.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Behaviourally Informed Health Policy in Ireland

Below from Robert Murphy in the Irish Department of Health details the latest in a series of reports and publications on behaviourally-informed health policy in Ireland. Further details including links to papers are available on the following website


This paper reports the impact of a collaborative quality improvement project between the Department of Health, the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), and the Health Service Executive (HSE). It shows that using amended text (SMS) reminder content, informed by behavioural science, reduced DNA rates for outpatient hospital appointments by a substantial amount.

A “did not attend” (DNA) occurs when a patient unexpectedly does not attend an outpatient hospital appointment. This means that hospital staff expected the patient to attend but the patient did not attend and did not signal in advance that they would not attend. International research shows that DNAs for hospital outpatient appointments can lead to the inefficient use of staff time, worse care for patients, and increase waiting times for patients.

Sending a text (SMS) reminder to patients a few days in advance of appoints has been found to reduce DNA rates. International evidence suggests the effectiveness of these reminders at reducing DNA rates can be further enhanced by applying findings from behavioural science to enhance the content of SMS reminder messages. The quality improvement project sought to identify the best performing SMS reminder for Ireland.

We used a randomised control trial (RCT) to test the impact of four re-designed SMS appointment reminders (interventions) against an existing SMS reminder (control) on patient DNA rates in Naas General Hospital.

Previous international research shows that the most common reason reported by patients for not attending is that they forgot. All interventions aimed to help the patient remember better or to improve their recall.

 Intervention 1 (Recall I) included two design elements reported to increase engagement, namely personalisation and reciprocity. It also included the day of the appointment in words to help with recall.

All other interventions included these three design elements of Intervention 1 along with additional design features. Intervention 2 (Recall II) additionally included the name of the consultant and clinic name on the basis that this might help patients to remember their appointment.

Another commonly reported reason for not attending is that a patient felt the appointment appeared to have no benefit. Therefore, Intervention 3 additionally stated the importance of attendance for health (Recall II + Importance for health). Some previous international trials show an effect on DNAs of including the cost to hospitals of non-attendance, so Intervention 4 included text on the avoided loss if patients who cannot attend signal this in advance (Recall II + Avoided loss to patients and staff).

We found that the redesigned SMS of Intervention 2 (Recall II) is the best performing reminder. It reduced DNA rates by 12.7% compared to the control reminder. This small change to the content of the reminder resulted in one in eight non-attendees changing their behaviour. The intervention is highly cost effective. Applying the findings to 2022 national data suggests DNAs could be reduced by about 61,000 by using a better worded text reminder. 

Commenting on the publication, Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly said:

I welcome the findings of this impact evaluation. The paper identifies the best performing SMS reminder, which based on findings from behavioural science makes it easier to remember the appointment. Widespread adoption of the recommended SMS templates as part of national practice will substantially reduce non-attendance and improve hospital productivity.

A special thank you to my co-authors Liam Delaney Deirdre A. Robertson Helen Ryan Alex Wood Alison Green Glenn Murphy and to my colleagues in the NTPF (especially Alison Green, Glenn Murphy, and Elva Powell) and the HSE (in particular Jenny O’Rourke) who made this project possible. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Details on new Behavioural Science Ethics Initiative

 πŸ“£ Introducing our Wider World Corporate Behavioural Science Ethics Initiative


🌍 Our Wider World seminars have seen speakers from around the world discuss issues at the heart of the application of behavioural science in public and private settings.

πŸ“‘ One addition to the seminars has been the creation of behavioural science and wider world projects. Each year, groups of students work with faculty and researchers on cutting-edge topics that are converted into white papers and similar.

πŸ“Š One project from this has been the development of the FORGOOD ethics framework for corporate settings, driven by Bishin Ho and Annabel Gillard, and building on the widely used framework developed by Liam Delaney and Leonhard Lades. A further development of this project was selected by LSE Innovation for seed funding to develop a formal initiative in this area.

πŸ™ We are now moving into the next phase of this project, where we are soliciting interest from partners to work with us to develop this framework further in corporate settings. Over the next year, we will build a cohort of approximately 10-12 organisations in the development of tools to improve the ethical application of behavioural science in corporate environments.

β„Ή More information, including likely material and subscription costs, can be found in the linked slidedeck.

πŸ“© If you are interested in learning more, please contact Liam, Bishin or Annabel directly.

πŸ”— Read a blog post about FORGOOD for the private sector: https://lnkd.in/dTGwrfqp
πŸ”— Learn more about the Wider World Initiative: https://lnkd.in/e8A-c-Zj


hashtagFORGOOD hashtagBehaviouralScience hashtagWiderWorld hashtagEthics

Saturday, April 06, 2024

Pension Autoenroment Irish Edition

After at least two decades of being actively considered in Ireland, pension autoenrolment is now being established as part of the Irish policy system, I spoke at the Citizens assembly on pensions in 2018 and outlined the various factors that might need to be considered where a pension auto-enrolment system to be implemented in Ireland. (here is a post on this blog from 2011 discussing a previous version of autoenrolment for Ireland that eventually got stalled). 


Key features of the scheme include: -

1)Phased Implementation

All employees not already in an occupational pension scheme or equivalent, aged between 23 and 60 and earning over €20,000 across all of their employments, will be automatically enrolled.
With the first enrolments set to happen at the start of 2025, the introduction of Automatic Enrolment will be very gradually phased in over a decade, with both employer and employee contributions starting at 1.5%, and increasing every three years by 1.5 percentage points until they eventually reach 6% by Year 10 (2034). This steady phasing allows time for both employers and employees to adjust to the new system.
2)Saving Supports

Matching contributions will be made by employers to those contributions made by employees up to a maximum of €80,000 of earnings. This recognises the value employers gain through their employees having additional security in retirement and assists employees with the cost of accumulating pension savings.

The State will also top up contributions by €1 for every €3 saved by the employee, up to a maximum of €80,000 of earnings. This is in addition to the €3 that will also be contributed by the employer.
This means that for every €3 saved by an employee, a further €4 will be contributed to their retirement savings pot by their employer and the State – that is every €3 contribution by an employee automatically grows to €7 before it is invested.
These employer and State contributions will incentivise people to stay in the Automatic Enrolment system and will reduce the cost to individuals of saving for retirement.

3)Choice
The system will be voluntary but will operate on an ‘opt-out’ rather than an ‘opt-in’ basis.
Eligible employees will be automatically enrolled/‘opted-in’ but will have the choice after six months’ mandatory participation to opt-out or suspend participation.
Employees will have a range of three retirement savings options to choose from at a higher, medium and low risk investment strategy.
Employees who do not make an active choice will be placed in a default investment strategy on a ‘lifecycle’ basis, moving them from the higher to the medium to the lower risk fund in accordance with their age as they approach retirement.

4)Simplicity
Administrative costs and burdens are to be kept to an absolute minimum for both employers and employees through the establishment of the National Automatic Enrolment Retirement Savings Authority, which will administer the system. Employers will not have to invest in the establishment or procurement of an occupational scheme for their own businesses. They will simply be required to facilitate payroll deductions. Importantly, people moving between jobs will not have to change pension scheme or join a new scheme. They will remain members of the Automatic Enrolment scheme on a ‘pot-follows-the-member’ basis. Services will be provided and supported through an easy-to-use online channel where participants will see their savings pots grow quickly and substantively.

Friday, April 05, 2024

Beveridge 2.0

I contributed a piece to an LSE initiative a couple of years back called Beveridge 2.0. The initiative is led by Tim Besley and Irene Bucelli. Details are available on the link below. The initiative has held several workshops and published special issues around the theme of redefining the Social Contract for the 21st century. My piece with Michael Daly looked at integrating broader well-being measures into systemic response mechanisms. 

Beveridge 2.0 Redefining the Social Contract is an initiative that brings the LSE community together with the intent of exploring avenues for collaborative cross-disciplinary research. Over three-quarters of a century after the original Beveridge Report, which laid the foundations for the welfare state in the UK, new challenges have emerged putting strain on social sustainability and forcing us to reconsider the conditions underpinning the social contract.These challenges bring to the fore cross-cutting questions which require a global perspective and a focus on their interconnectedness. This can only be achieved through fostering dialogue across disciplines and Beveridge 2.0. Redefining the Social Contract aims to provide the space for this dialogue, recognizing the unique position of the LSE in contributing to the research and public debate around the solutions suited to the demands of the twenty-first century.

One thing thinking about the initiative has stimulated me to do is to go back and read the 1942 "Social Insurance and Allied Services" aka Beveridge report. It is a document of epic scale that sets the foundations for the British social security system to this day. The guiding principle is an assault on the social ill of "want" and among other things it sought to amalgate a number of functions of government under a single department that would ensure that people had income under a range of potentially adverse conditions. Many of the themes persist to now in particular the intricacies of designing systems of social insurance that preserve human dignity in adverse settings and are sustainable. As discussed in many seminars and papers in the Beveridge 2.0 sessions, the modern setting sees increased longevity, adverse housing, divided electorates, and several other challenges that qualitatively alter the landscape of the design of social security systems. It is well worth going through the sessions and papers on the Beveridge 2.0 website to at least get a sense of the types of discussions happening here around these issues.