Understanding Society - April 2013

In this issue we bring together some of the world's leading thinkers in social psychology and behavioural economics and researchers from the global Ipsos network to consider the impact these disciplines are having on public policy.

Welcome to the latest edition of the Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute’s Understanding Society. In this issue we bring together some of the world’s leading thinkers in social psychology and behavioural economics and researchers from the global Ipsos network to consider the impact these disciplines are having on public policy. We are delighted to have in this publication an interview with Professor Cass R. Sunstein, one of the key figures in describing then applying these approaches. Professor Sunstein is the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard University and Harvard Law School and until recently, Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration. Perhaps best known globally for co-authoring Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness with Professor Richard Thaler, he has just published a new book – Simpler: The Future of Government – and as the title of this edition shows, we feel this sums up a key theme in behaviour change. In office, he took a decidedly empirical approach to working out which regulations work, and he outlines here some of the insights from his time in the White House. We are equally thrilled to have interviews with Professors Susan Michie of University College London (UCL) and Theresa Marteau of the University of Cambridge. Professor Michie, Director of UCL’s Health Psychology Research Group has advanced one of the most well-regarded frameworks for characterising and designing behaviour change interventions. Professor Michie discusses the advantages of starting from a diagnosis of the “behaviour in context” and drawing on what has worked before, as well as outlining new areas of research she and her team are working on. Professor Marteau, Director of the Behaviour and Health Research Unit at University of Cambridge, discusses the role of behavioural economics and social psychology in public health, and the huge challenges for public health interventions, in the face of pervasive encouragement to act in less healthy ways. Staying with public health, this edition includes case studies of how the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care in Canada used behavioural approaches to re-vamp their smoking cessation and free seasonal flu vaccination programmes. The idea of behaviour as a brand and the insights for public health are explored here also, giving an alternative perspective on health communication. Also included are articles covering: how the behavioural techniques Britain’s energy regulator and others in the energy industry are using is encouraging more efficient energy use; how an understanding of behaviour can help UK policy-makers design systems to improve people’s personal financial management during this tight fiscal period; and how the Australian emergency services developed a behaviour change model to help them approach how best to keep citizens safe in the face of natural disasters. If you would like to discuss any of the research here, please get in touch.

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