Governments and how they change our behaviour

A Committee of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) has called for central agencies to “take steps to ensure that civil servants with responsibility for policy making have the necessary understanding of the importance of changing behaviour and can identify the most appropriate people to consult in their own departments about the development of behaviour change interventions.”

It found that “the evidence supports the conclusion that non-regulatory or regulatory measures used in isolation are often not likely to be effective and that usually the most effective means of changing behaviour at a population level is to use a range of policy tools, both regulatory and non-regulatory. Given that many factors may influence behaviour, this conclusion is perhaps unsurprising.”

The House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology launched an inquiry into the use of behaviour change interventions as a means of achieving government policy goals and reported last month. See: Behaviour Change

Policies must be well designed if they are to work and be appropriately adapted in local areas. The report says:

“Although decentralising responsibility may provide a useful opportunity to tailor local behaviour change initiatives and to help build the evidence-base for applied behaviour change research at the population level, steps should be taken to ensure that interventions are evidence-based and properly evaluated. To this end, (the committee) recommend(ed) that the Government:

  • produce guidance for local authorities on how to use evidence effectively to design, commission and evaluate interventions and on the need to involve experts in the design and evaluation process, and provide advice on how to best use the tendering process to ensure value for money;
  • take steps to ensure that evaluation of interventions, including data collection and reporting of behaviour change outcomes, across local areas is of sufficiently high quality to allow comparisons and analysis;
  • takes steps to ensure that what is learnt by a local government in one place can be readily transmitted to other local governments; and
  • provide funding only for those schemes which are based on sound evidence. Demonstration of rigorous evaluation and contribution to the evidence-base should be a requirement for future funding for behaviour change interventions.”

The committee called for a change in the evaluation culture across Whitehall and noted effective evaluation requires that:

  • evaluation should be considered at the beginning of the policy design process. External evaluation expertise should be sought, where necessary, from the policy’s inception;
  • relevant outcome measures—as distinct from outputs—should be established at the beginning of the policy development process;
  • the duration of the evaluation process should be sufficiently long-term to demonstrate that an intervention has resulted in maintained behaviour change;
  • pilot studies, using population-representative samples, followed by controlled trials assessing objective outcomes should be used whenever practicable; and
  • sufficient funds should be allocated for evaluation, recognising that establishing what works, and why, is likely to result in better value for money in the long-term (paragraph 6.14).

Conclusions and Recommendations chapter.

1 thought on “Governments and how they change our behaviour”

  1. Bob Williams commented, on a separate discussion group, that:
    This has been known for donkey’s years. It is the main critique of social marketing – which I first came across in the early 1990’s. The World Health Organisation developed the Ottawa Charter of health promotion based on the failure of social marketing … in 1988.

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