NEWS21 February 2011

Behavioural Insight Team yet to win converts, finds NAO

Government UK

UK— A unit set up within government to apply behavioural economics to policy-making is struggling to win converts internally, according to a National Audit Office (NAO) report.

The Behavioural Insights Team, which has been tasked with looking at ways of achieving social and environmental goals without the need for regulation, has yet to be consulted by government departments to discuss “possible alternatives to regulation at the assessment stage”, the NAO said.

The report was published last week in the days following a hearing of the House of Lords science and technology committee, which is investigating the effectiveness of behaviour change programmes.

Oliver Letwin, the minister for government policy, spoke to the committee and admitted that it was “open to question whether any of this will have any effect whatsoever”.

“I don’t want to pretend that behavioural science is a sufficiently developed science to give us complete confidence or even sort of 95% confidence that any given technique will produce given results,” he said, according to a Guardian report. “As a matter of fact the science of investigating regulation isn’t sufficiently developed to give you that either. But I think it is extremely clear that it is pretty cost-free to do these things, pretty straight forward to do them so that if they don’t produce any result we won’t have lost much.”

The Behavioural Insights Team is advised by Richard Thaler, co-author of a book about ‘Nudge’ theory, and costs around £500,000 a year to run.


1 Comment

13 years ago

Behavioural science is a well-established profession applied by occupational psychologists (4,000 in the UK) and other psychologists, members of the British Psychological Society. As a psychologist, it is good to see the profession highlighted in some useful initiatives being used by the government to change behaviours. Legislation such as sex discrimination does not work on its for example - it's been around for a long time both here and the US, and does not work on its own. Organisational and individual behaviour needs to change to really make a difference. Psychologists should be used in every organisation to resolve the many organisational issues. Organisations are missing opportunties to improve by not understanding the work of psychologists and the huge value they bring, using valid and reliable methods. Many facets of society and business use psychology without realising, and consumer behaviour psychologists have been around for a while. So to say the science is new (not on this site) is not correct, and shows the hidden nature of the good work of psychologists in the UK. See

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