Government social research – Behaviour Change Review

January 15, 2011


GOVERNMENT SOCIAL RESEARCH BEHAVIOUR CHANGE KNOWLEDGE REVIEW – Reference Report: An overview of behaviour change models and their uses

“Behavioural economics provides numerous principles combining economic and psychological theory, all of which serve as qualifications to rational choice theory. These principles have been summarised in a review for policy audiences by the New Economics Foundation (Dawnay and Shah 2005). Some of the most widely applied principles are:

Hyperbolic Discounting
In prospective decision making, people tend to offset long-term benefits against short- term rewards; this calculation results in a discount rate. Different people apply different discount rates (eg. those in disadvantaged groups tend to have high discount rates, showing a greater preference for short-term rewards – see Halpern et al 2003), while an individual’s discount rates vary according to the behavioural decision in question (eg. different products attract different rates; airconditioning is commonly highly discounted – Wilson and Dowlatabadi 2007). Such considerations mean that the rates applied vary across the timeframe of the decision (hence they are ‘hyperbolic’), with the result that people’s preferences appear inconstant. However, it is not clear that this always contradicts rational choice. For example, it may appear that people are irrational in not providing sufficiently for their own pensions, but life expectancy is uncertain, investments are uncertain, health is uncertain and people may simply prefer to consume when younger even as they wish they had more for their old age. (For more information on discounting, see HMT 2003.)

The decision made by an individual depends on how the available choices (the ‘reference frame’) are presented to them. Framing the same choice in terms of losses instead of gains can alter the decision made, as can presenting the items in a different order (see Talbot et al 2007, Harford 2008).

When faced with a difficult decision or one involving too much choice, people may choose not to change their behaviour at all, or to choose the easiest option (the path of least resistance). This principle is often in evidence in financial decisions (such as investments, or changing energy supplier – see Talbot et al 2007, Wilson and Dowlatabadi 2007).




(contains facts, not gossip)


Futures – The Horizon Scanning Centre

February 22, 2009



“Aim and Scope: The Centre’s aims are:

* To inform departmental and cross-departmental decision-making
* To support horizon scanning carried out by others inside government
* To spot the implications of emerging science and technology and enable others to act on them

The three work-streams of the Centre are:

* Producing a broad horizon scan – the Sigma Scan – looking at potential future issues and trends that may have an impact on public policy, to inform Government strategy and policy-making.
* Project work with stakeholders: demand-led opportunities for joint working on specific issues with stakeholders (departments or groups of departments)
* Provision of tools and support to spread good practice in departmental horizon scanning, including coaching, providing advice, brokering agreements and creating synergies that make the best use of resources and facilitate capacity-building.”


Futures – Foresight

February 22, 2009



“”The UK’s Foresight Programme aims to bridge the gap in policy making between the short and the long term.”
Professor John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Adviser

Individuals and governments hope that their actions help to shape the world into one that we all want to live in. To do that effectively, we really have to understand the future, uncertain as that may be.

The UK Government’s Foresight Programme and its Horizon Scanning Centre use the best evidence from science and other areas to provide visions of the future. While no one can predict what will happen, ‘futures research’ can help us to identify potential risks and opportunities. In this way, Foresight can assist policymakers in developing strategies to manage our future better.

As the Governments’ ‘think tank’ on science and technology issues Foresight operates through projects that investigate the challenges and opportunities arising from emerging areas of science and technology or that address major issues for society where science and technology have an important role to play.

By drawing on experts from many disciplines in the natural and social sciences, and through the use of proven futures techniques, Foresight can help the Government to strike the right balance between long-term thinking and tackling issues that need immediate attention. Foresight works across Government, supporting strategic thinking and helping departments to formulate innovative policies that can withstand the inevitable changes that the future throws at us.

The Foresight Programme and its Horizon Scanning Centre are a part of the Government Office for Science within the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.”