Festival Highlights: Nudgestock 2017


Earlier this month I attended Nudgestock, an annual applied behavioural science conference hosted in the UK, to learn from academics in the field and various practitioners successfully applying their insights in new and novel interventions over the last year.

This year, as expected, garnered a host of new and interesting ideas. From Rory Sutherland’s call for TenX psychological moon shots, to scaling design learnings from unexpected environments such as the inside of an aeroplane cockpit.

What I was most interested in, though, was a steadily growing segment of the conference which celebrates the best practical applications of behavioural insights to real world business and social challenges – the Nudge Awards. It is all good talking about the insights, exploring interesting ideas, and uncovering novel opportunities, but if there aren’t visible, practical examples of progress all of this could be seen as superfluous puffs of smoke.

I was excited to see the awards structure expand out from a single catchall category to five distinct categories:

· The Most Effective (Interventions that had an impactful return on investment)

· The Best Insight (Interesting research, or novel and influential insight)

· The Most Creative (Innovative solutions or an out the box approach to get there)

· A Nudge for Good (Solving real world social challenges using behavioural science)

· The People’s Choice (Nudgestock guests vote for their favourite entry)

Still energised from our Gold Nudge Award win in 2016, we decided to enter two cases this year, both into ‘The Most Effective’ category, and both being successful behaviourally-informed interventions that we achieved with two of our clients in the financial services space.

The first intervention was with Allan Gray. We worked closely with their team to successfully increase their clients’ contributions to their retirement investments in the lead up to the end of the tax year. Stimulating savings behaviour is a huge challenge in South Africa at the moment, so to be able to work on this and achieve the effects that we did was a really fulfilling experience.

Our second entry was for some of our work with Capitec bank. We helped them develop a debt management intervention that got their clients, who were at risk of going into arrears, to make their debt payments. The intervention was extremely successful with over R25 million that had been provisionally written off, saved and turned into actualized profit for the company.

There was some incredible competition this year and, although we weren’t able to bring home an award, what was apparent and exciting to see was a rise in the quality and quantity of good work being produced. For such a new industry, to see such increased attention on the quality of the work being produced and the number of key players entering is really promising for Behavioural Science as a whole.

To give you a sense of what I am talking about, I thought I would briefly summarise my favourite intervention from this year’s award-winners:

Using Personal Loss Frames Increases Medical Adherence:

What Joe Gladstone and Jon Jachimowicz, in partnership with Boots pharmacy, set out to do was to increase adherence to prescribed medication by NHS patients in the UK. This is an incredibly important challenge to solve considering that as many as 50% of patients in the UK do not take their medication as prescribed. Aside from significantly harming their own health, this also consequently creates huge additional costs for the national healthcare system (NHS) in wasted treatment and increased drug resistance in the process.

How they achieved success was by using the novel combination of pre-commitment devices and personal loss framing. Practically what this meant was that every time a patient came to pick up medication at a Boots pharmacy, the largest pharmaceutical outlet in the UK, they had to sign a pre-commitment sticker attached to the packaging which included a brief statement about the consequences (written in a loss frame) of not taking the medication.

The team set up a pre-registered randomized controlled trial, testing three variations of the pre-commitment sticker. The three variations included one with a neutral statement (the control), a variation with a societal loss frame (“The NHS loses 300 million per year from wasted medication”), and the third with a personal loss frame (“Not taking my medication as prescribed could risk my health”). As expected, the combination of pre-commitment and a personal loss frame (intervention three) proved to be the most effective in getting patients to adhere to the prescribed medication instructions.

This was by far my favourite intervention, and a worthy winner of ‘The Most Effective’ category. A white paper documenting the study is due to be released soon. If you’re interested, follow them on Twitter: @JoeJGladstone and @jonj for updates.                                                                                     

What impressed me the most about this case study was not just the novelty, cost-effectiveness and scalability of the intervention, but also the rigorous and technically precise approach that was used to test subtle variations of the intervention in the field in order to understand what worked.

It is an archetypal representation of where the practical side of the field needs to be going, and it’s encouraging to see it moving in this direction so broadly.