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Sneaking under the radar in central government are a small team of ten people.  Called the Behavioural Influence Team (BIT), they have a remit of using behavioural techniques to improve how government bring about change and improvement.

They have just brought out their Annual update for 2011, and anyone who has read anything by Robert Cialdini, Especially his excellent book, “Influence, the psychology of persuasion”, will appreciate that these are some of the techniques they are using.

They have set themselves a target of two significant changes and a return of 10 times their cost.  So they are explicitly measuring the impact they are having in good experimental style.  For instance, they are encouraging more people to pay their taxes by saying that most

For instance they cite, “Signing forms upfront to increase honesty. Research in the US has found that signatures and declarations of honesty are significantly more effective if placed at the beginning of a form than at the end – a field experiment showed that people declared 10% more miles on their car insurance application when signing upfront (resulting in them paying higher premiums)”.  of course this is Ciadini’s Commitment.

They also say “Harnessing social norms to encourage payment. We have already successfully demonstrated how informing people about a positive social norm (that most people who live near them have already paid their tax) strongly encourages late payers to follow suit”.  Again this is Cialdini’s Social proof.

Just because there techniques are transparent to those of us in the know is not to denigrate them.  On the contrary, what they are doing is taking a small team, giving them the remit to use techniques that many of us have read about and applied, and are explicitly trying things and measuring whether they work.  This should be complemented.

So the question is, could you take up the challenge in the same way in your organisation.  Could a small team, with the disciplines and techniques that are proven, start to make small changes that will positively influence behaviour, whether that be inside the organisation, or amongst your organisations customers and suppliers?

You can read the report on info4localgovernment website “Behavioural Influence Team, Annual Update 2010-11”