How do you get bankers to donate to charity? Give them sweets, finds the Government's team trying to change our behaviour

The Government's Behavioural Insights Team found a number of small changes to processes can lead to big changes in outcomes

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Bankers are more likely to give to charity if you give them a packet of sweets, according to research by the Government’s team tasked with changing the way we behave.

The Behavioural Insights Team tried various approaches to persuade investment bankers to donate a day’s salary to charity.

They included a personalised email from the chief executive, a visit from a celebrity, being greeted by a volunteer and handing out a small packet of sweets.

The team found that the personalised email and the packet of sweets, which aimed to induce reciprocity, were the most powerful interventions - together boosting the proportion of participants donating from 5 per cent to 17 per cent.

The findings were part of the latest report by the Government’s behavioural psychology team, which is having an increasingly influential role with ministers in a range of different areas.

From increasing charitable giving, reducing tax fraud and redesigning parts of the benefits system to increase incentives to find work, the so-called “nudge theory” is being used to encourage people to change their behaviour and help the Government meet its goals.

It was set up five years ago, making Britain one of the first countries in the world to embrace nudge theory.

Ministers are also intending to expand its remit into some of the most controversial areas of Government policy, using it to identify the most effective measures the Government can take to encourage illegal migrants to leave the UK and countering Islamic extremism.

Here are examples of five other changes in behaviour the team discovered after small changes to processes.

Health

Misread prescriptions are one of the biggest causes of avoidable harm to patients. So working with Imperial College Hospital the unit redesigned prescription charts used by clinicians to record prescriptions.

Rather than allowing doctors to write dosages by hand, the new forms made them to circle which dose applied - to reduce the number of illegibly-filled forms where it’s hard to decipher microgram vs milligrams.

Results showed that under the old forms 3/100 doses were incorrectly entered but with the new forms this was reduced to zero.

Energy

Swapping energy supplier or tariff is one of the best the ways for consumers to reduce their bills – but most people still don’t do it.

To try and address this, the team devised a message that was printed on the back of envelopes sent to millions of elderly winter fuel allowance recipients. The message said: “Many people save up to £200 on their energy bills by switching tariff. Visit www.goenergyshopping.co.uk”

As a result, the number of people visiting the site increased by 20 per cent.

Education

How do you inspire teenagers to think about going to university when worries about debt get so much national attention?

A trial was set up in 39 schools in Somerset to test different approaches. This found that when students received a talk - emphasising the lifestyle benefits of university - this had a significant effect on increasing students’ likelihood of applying to university. However, those who received written information about the benefits of university education they were significantly less likely to want to apply.

Diversity

Avon and Somerset Police asked BIT to help find new ways to increasw force diversity.

Their analysis found there was a disproportionate drop in Black and Minority Ethnic applicants passing one particular test in the process of becoming a police officer.

BIT adjusted a reminder that applicants saw before taking the test asking them to consider what becoming a police officer would mean to them and their community. This simple intervention increased the probability of a BME applicant passing the test by 50 per cent - closing the gap in performance between BME and white applicants.

Tax

In the UK, most people pay their taxes. The same is not true in Guatemala. In fact, there, tax revenue as a proportion of GDP is just 11.9 per cent compared to 39 per cent in the UK.

The unit trialled sending letters that warned recipients not paying their tax would be seen as an intentional and deliberate choice rather than oversight.

After 11 weeks the amount of tax paid by those who got the amended letters was $24.62 compared to just $6.82 from those to whom the standard letter was sent.