Nov 6, 2020
In today’s episode, I’m excited
to introduce you to Dr. Michael Hallsworth, managing director at
Behavioral Insights Team North America and co-author of the new
book, Behavioral Insights.
Before that, he led their global
work on health and tax for five years. Michael was previously a
Senior Policy Advisor in the Cabinet Office of the UK government
and has in-depth experience in both policy development and service
delivery for national governments and international organizations.
He has also been a leading figure in developing the field of
applying behavioral science to government, having authored several
influential frameworks such as EAST, Behavioral Government, and the
MINDSPACE report (which has been cited more than 800 times to
date). His work has been published in The Lancet, the Journal of
Public Economics, Nature Human Behaviour, and more.
His new book,
Insights, which was
co-authored with Elspeth Kirkman and published by the MIT Press,
was released in September. When you get yours, if you opt for the
physical version, you’ll see it’s this adorable little pocket-sized
version of a book. A little smaller than most these days and it has
really great full-bleed callout pages.
Michael has worked on so many
amazing projects over the years, I’m honored he is sharing some of
them with us today--and some great tips for approaching your own
research and testing, based on their book Behavioral Insights.
- [00:46] Today I’m excited to introduce you to
Dr. Michael Hallsworth, managing director at Behavioral Insights
Team North America.
- [03:48] About ten years ago Michael started
working in an organization that was all about how you apply
evidence to improve the way government works.
- [05:43] The Behavioral Insights Team includes
200 people across the world including Sydney, Paris, New York, and
Toronto. They take behavioral science and try to improve the way
policies and services are designed and the way government
- [07:51] Michael shares a project he is really
proud of that relates to antibiotics prescribing in the
- [09:35] They found a 1% decline in antibiotic
prescribing at the end just by sending a letter from England’s
Chief Medical Officer and giving information based on social
- [10:29] In Australia, they built on the
antibiotic project. Bec Weeks shared about this in her interview on
the show (episode 119). It has also been done in Italy and other
countries as well.
- [12:21] On Generalizability: They have seen
studies with surprisingly similar results, but that isn’t always
- [13:36] The key is trying to have that
productive tension between retaining the active ingredient that
worked, but adapting it so it continues to work
- [14:36] Testing is very important. We may see
something that works across the board, but we still should be
questioning it and looking at what is different in other
- [16:01] Most of the frameworks they share in
the book have some aspects in common around
identifying the goals and behavior upfront
and then going deeper to understand
what is happening.
- [16:59] Then they try to come up
with interventions that
attempt to address the factors you have seen. Then you should do
the implementation and testing of those solutions or
- [17:19] Rather than just stopping at the result
phase, ask “How might we take this result and help
it be used elsewhere?”
- [18:37] The ten-stage framework in the book
takes you through all these different steps from start to
- [20:01] Michael shares a story about a policy
project where they implemented a higher-level strategy around the
sugar drink tax in the UK.
- [22:01] It is very important to understand the
problem and ask the right questions before you start implementing
- [23:25] They discuss the “macaroni and cheese
study” by Barbara Rolls about portion size.
- [25:48] Micheal shares about their rapid trials
with cities for communicating urgent messages to their residents
during the pandemic.
- [27:47] They looked at the best way of
communicating proper face masks.
- [29:30] The Behavioral Insights Team has worked
on a lot of different projects. He recalls a carpooling project he
worked on which had no effect.
- [29:54] They publish an annual report and they
are very open about projects that didn’t get a result because it
may point towards the fact that a bigger intervention is
- [31:04] If all we ever see is what goes really
well or what was successful and don’t look at anything that
wasn’t, it just creates a completely different
perspective on the field and sets things up
- [32:23] At the end of the book they talk about
bigger policy issues and their criticisms of the approaches. They
try to explain these issues and give ways forward.
- [34:01] At the beginning of the book they talk
about the 3 Pillars of Behavioral Insights.
- [36:39] It was awesome to learn about the way
the Behavioral Insights Team may approach problems so those looking
to apply behavioral economics within their business have a
framework that could work well for them as well.
- [37:24] Don’t forget to check out the
year-end sale going on now.
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