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125. How to Approach and Implement Behavioral Insights, an Interview with Michael Hallsworth

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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.
His new book, Behavioral 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.

Show Notes:

  • [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 works. 
  • [07:51] Michael shares a project he is really proud of that relates to antibiotics prescribing in the UK. 
  • [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 norms.
  • [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 the case. 
  • [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 elsewhere.
  • [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 scenarios. 
  • [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 interventions. 
  • [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 solution. 
  • [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 things. 
  • [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 needed.
  • [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 differently. 
  • [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.

Thanks for listening. Don’t forget to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Android. If you like what you heard, please leave a review on iTunes and share what you liked about the show. 

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