How organ donation is getting nudge in the right direction: trial could pave way for 100,000 extra donors each year

People were most receptive to messages that appeared to affect them personally, rather than peer pressure

More than 100,000 extra people every year would sign up to become organ donors if they were asked to do so in the right way, a pioneering government trial has found.

For years the NHS has grappled with the conundrum of how to increase the number of people on Britain’s Organ Donor Register. Surveys show that 90 per cent of us support the principle of donation – but yet only a third  bother to join the register. On average three people a day die  because there are not enough donors.

Now a government team has discovered that by making small changes to the language used to ask people to become donors they can make a vast difference to the number of people signing up. Perhaps unsurprisingly, appeals to  self-interest win the day.

In one of the largest ever trials conducted, more than  one million people renewing their tax disc or registering for a driving licence online were randomly presented with one of eight different messages encouraging them to join the Organ Donor Register.

The study, which was conducted by the Government’s Behavioural Insights team or “Nudge” Unit, found that people were most receptive to messages that appeared to affect them personally – rather than “peer pressure” or “shock value”.

As a result of the trial – and the changes to the website which have now been implemented – it is estimated that more than 100,000 extra people a year will carry donor cards. The randomised trial worked by testing a series of messages and pictures on a website page to which people were directed after renewing their vehicle tax or registering for a driving licence. The trial ran for five weeks, during which time more than one million people saw one of the variants, making it one of the largest trials ever conducted in the UK public sector.

It found that the least successful message was: “Every day thousands of people who see this page decide to register [as an organ donor],” which ran alongside a picture of a group of smiling people. Not much better performing was the slogan: “You could save or transform up to nine lives as an organ donor.”

Even “Three people die every day because there are not enough organ donors”, was not the best way of getting people to sign up.

The most successful slogan was one which read: “If you needed an organ transplant, would you have one? If so, please help others.”

On average people who saw that message were almost a third more likely to sign up than those who saw the lowest-ranking version. The “winning” text has now become standard on the DVLA website.

The study is the latest to be published by Behavioural Insights team which has already had considerable success across other areas of government policy.

Since its creation in 2010 it is credited with saving the UK Courts Service £30m a year – increasing the number of people who paid their fines by sending them personalised text messages.

It has also worked with jobcentres to devise new programmes to help people find work. In trials, 20 per cent more people found work having been on the “Nudge” programme compared with traditional methods.

The unit is currently being “spun off” from the Cabinet Office into a new mutual company so that it can expand its work – both in the public and private sector – and provide revenue to central Government.

Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, said the spin-off would contribute to growth by combining the benefits of private sector experience and investment with “commitment and innovation”.

“This study shows yet again they can make a real difference. Organ donation can transform people’s lives so I’m pleased the team has examined how we can improve sign-up rates,” he said.

Professor Anthony Warrens, president of the British Transplantation Society, said they were excited by the findings. “We have a responsibility to help people understand what an amazing act it is to donate organs and how it can transform the lives of so many others, and we very warmly welcome publication of this study on how to improve the way we ask people to join the Organ Donor Register.”

Applying the insights of behavioural economics will mean better – and cheaper – government  

Art of persuasion: the tested phrases

Most successful phrases:

The most effective variant used the concept of reciprocity and asked: “If you needed an organ transplant, would you have one? If so, please help others.”

The second most successful used the idea of loss and was framed: “Three people die every day because there are not enough organ donors.”

Least successful phrases

The phrase: “Every day thousands of people who see this page decide to register” performed better on its own than when it was paired with a group of people. This is the opposite of what researchers expected, which may be because people thought the use of a stock photo implied it was a marketing gimmick.

The other least effective phrases were: “If you support organ donation please turn your support into action”; and: “You could save or transform up to nine lives as an organ donor”.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Sport
Diego Costa, Ross Barkley, Arsene Wenger, Brendan Rodgers, Alan Pardew and Christian Eriksen
footballRodgers is right to be looking over his shoulder, while something must be done about diving
News
The illusionist believes hypnotism helped him to deal with the lack of control he felt growing up
people'It’s not that people react badly to it – they really don't care'
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
gaming
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Investigo: Group Financial Controller

£50000 - £55000 per annum: Investigo: A growing group of top end restaurants l...

Ashdown Group: HR Generalist - 2 week contract - £200pd - Immediate start

£200 per day: Ashdown Group: Working within a business that has a high number ...

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Recruitment Genius: Business / Operations Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well-established and growi...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible