Victoria gives behavioural insights a nudge, cross-agency mandate

By David Donaldson

Wednesday March 23, 2016

Victoria is consolidating its currently scattered behavioural insights skills base by setting up a new nudge unit within DPC — and it’s hiring! The unit will support agencies with co-ordination and strategic oversight across government.

Victoria has opted to follow in the footsteps of the United Kingdom, New South Wales and the Commonwealth in setting up a behavioural insights office to figure out how to tweak government and make it run more smoothly. This will provide a single point of co-ordination for the behavioural insights expertise currently scattered across the public service.

The Department of Premier and Cabinet is advertising for a range of positions between VPS3 and VPS6 level for a new nudge unit that sits within DPC’s Public Sector Innovation Branch and will report to the director of public sector innovation, Sam Hannah-Rankin.

The team has been established to build capability across the VPS in behavioural insights. This will involve the delivery of flagship behavioural insights projects to deliver tangible improvements and build hands-on experience, as well as providing training and guidance to practitioners running behavioural insights initiatives across government.

The unit will “unify capability and expertise and provide a co-ordinated and strategic approach to work currently spread across pockets of government,” a Department of Premier and Cabinet spokesperson told The Mandarin.

” … interventions not only help improve policy outcomes, but will save agencies a decent amount of money … ”

Behavioural insights allows governments to take advantage of cognitive biases to nudge citizens towards doing publicly beneficial things like paying tax on time or signing up to be an organ donor, without requiring coercive tactics. Often such interventions not only help improve policy outcomes, but will save agencies a decent amount of money.

A recent trial in Kentucky, for example, saw a significant increase in the number of people paying off parking fines after the city of Louisville took to telling those with overdue fines that the majority of drivers pay up within 13 days. The city hopes that rolling out the new approach will net an extra $125,000 per year. Similarly, the Australian Tax Office found that including a note about how most people pay on time in letters to customers increased response rates by 12%.

NSW DPC’s behavioural insights team discovered in a trial that simply sending text messages to patients of St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney helped reduce the number of no-shows. If the hospital had mobile numbers for all its patients, sending out such messages before appointments could save $100,000 a year.

After the first one was set up in the United Kingdom in 2010, the idea of dedicated behavioural insights units has been gradually catching on in Australia. NSW created one in 2012; the federal government announced in November it would set up its own nudge unit in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The place to be insightful

But it’s not the first time Victoria has dabbled in the area. VicHealth has been working with David Halpern from the UK’s Behavioural Insights Team to trial a range of interventions to help build an evidence base, including painting footprints on stairs to encourage people not to use the escalators and increasing the prices of food and drinks in vending machines.

Victoria’s Environmental Protection Authority has used BI principles to change the way it communicates with people who receive fines for littering, leading to a greater number paying on time and fewer submitting statutory declarations that they had not littered, often wrongfully. Other research has focused on finding out when small and medium sized businesses are most open to changing how they operate to help inform how government works with them on the design and implementation of environmental sustainability and compliance programs.

If you’re interested in applying, you have one more week — applications close on March 30.

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