HoL inquiry into behaviour change

The House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee is investigating the use of behaviour change to achieve public policy objectives. It is critically examining the Government’s embracing of recently-popular “nudge” principles to influence people’s choices.

It is also analysing the evidence base for different forms of interventions to change behaviour and the ethical issues to which they give rise. The written evidence and two case studies on obesity and travel mode choice will be helpful to local authorities in considering behaviour change strategies.

This inquiry is very timely in light of current debates on the direction of government policy, for example in relation to public health, where there has been increasing emphasis on behaviour change by recent governments.

This has been so despite the acceptance by the previous and current governments of the findings of the Marmot report on the social determinants of health, Fair Society, Healthy Lives. The latter makes clear that the causes of ill health are social and economic to a very great extent and it would seem to follow that the remedies should also be broadly social and economic, rather than individual, as a behaviour change approach would suggest.

However, given the increasing dominance of behaviour change approaches in many areas of public policy, it is to be welcomed that the evidence on which interventions are most successful and why is being brought together and examined in both a public and a thorough manner. It is also to be welcomed that the Committee is examining the ethics of behaviour change interventions and has therefore received a considerable amount of evidence on this issue.

The published written evidence should provide a considerable resource for local authorities and their public and voluntary sector partners to assist in deciding which interventions are most likely to be effective, and to think through the ethical implications if they wish to take a behaviour change approach in a particular policy area.

This post is based on a LGiU members briefing written by Fiona Campbell. Briefings are accessible to all officers and elected members of our member authorities. For more information on joining the Local Government Information Unit please follow this link

    1. markgamsu says:

      David Halpern’s report MINDSPACE – which underpins much of the thinking on behaviour change is clear that 80% of the decisions we make are determined by the circumstances that we find ourselves in – the people we are with, the physical environment we live, work and play in and so on. So, it follows that if we are to support people to change their behaviour we have to improve our housing, environment, access to education, employment etc. The last time these ideas were pushed was when the last Government promoted ‘Social Marketing’. This quickly became distorted and simplified – and we ended up with expensive branded sales programmes like Change 4 Life. I think there is a real risk that the current focus on nudge will lead to a similar emphasis on simple media marketing – lecturing people – rather than creating environments that allow us to make different decisions about our behaviour.

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