Expanding Role for the UK’s Behavioural Insights Team

Five years ago the government of the United Kingdom was one of the first in the world to deploy “nudge theory”, a design approach which uses behavioural economics, design and psychology to influence people’s behaviour. Ministers established a Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) in the Cabinet Office which achieved notable results in areas such as reducing tax fraud and redesigning parts of the benefits system to increase incentives to find work.

The activities of the Behavioural Insights Team lead to much debate within the UK regarding the ethics and role of such units. Within design circles, I can’t count the number of meetings and workshops in which we have debated the good and bad points of systematic deployment of nudge-like design. For a period of time there was substantial negative press regarding such initiatives.

A piece in today’s The Independent suggests, however, that despite some bad press the team’s success has lead to an expanded role within government. The team has recently been contracted by the Home Office to identify measures to encourage illegal migrants to leave the UK, by the Department of Health to target the doctors who prescribe the most antibiotics and by the Ministry of Defence to investigate how to increase the rate of army reservist applications.

Sources close to the Cabinet Office have suggested that the team will also be involved in the development of the Government’s new anti-radicalisation agenda, which was unveiled by David Cameron earlier this week.