Nudging along more effective services
Claire Mansfield, Head of Research, NLGN, 5 October, 2017

Financial constraints and demographic pressures mean councils are increasingly shifting their role from service deliverers to service enablers. Councils and communities are beginning to work more closely together and will need to become more collaborative, creative and self-determined.

As this happens, it will be important to understand better what motivates communities and what influences how they will act. Behavioural insights can help with this.

NLGN’s latest Innovation Briefing focuses on how councils are using behavioural insights to inform behaviour change in ways that can shift demand for services, and in the process create interventions that are both more effective for residents and more efficient for the public purse.

Behaviour change is not new to government. Both central and local governments have tried to effect outcomes with new laws, taxes and programmes. But many of the biggest challenges we are now facing will require a changed, less paternalistic relationship between communities and their councils. It will require real insight into what drives behaviour and how to motivate change.

Behaviour change and interventions can come in different forms, as the Cabinet office and Institute for Government set out in ‘Mindspace – Influencing Behaviour Through Public Policy’. This ranges from ‘smacks’ which eliminate choice, to ‘shoves’ which restrict or disincentive a choice, to ‘nudges’ which enable choice, provide information, use social norms and incentives to change people’s default behaviour. The level of intervention depends on the outcome you want to achieve and the context within which a council is operating.

Too often we address problems as we see them, but do not truly understand what is motivating a person’s behaviour. Traditional methods of behaviour change attempted to change minds, by providing information and expecting people to make the most rational, ‘best’ choice based on this information. But people are not always rational.

In contrast, approaches based on ‘changing contexts’ – the environment within which we make decisions and respond to cues – have the potential to bring about significant changes in behaviour at relatively low cost. Shaping policy more closely around our inbuilt responses to the world offers a potentially powerful way to improve individual wellbeing and social welfare.

Behavioural insights – really looking at why a person behaves in certain way and what can alter that behaviour – can be particularly helpful to councils when addressing issues that need demand management or early intervention. It can also be useful to address and encourage culture change within an organisation.

Our latest innovation briefing looks at more detail at how to approach behaviour change and gives examples of how councils are applying behavioural insights in practice.

If you have an interest in this area, or are developing particular activity, I’d love to hear from you on

The second of NLGN’s new programme of Innovation Briefings is launched today and is available exclusively for our members.

For more information about the range of benefits of joining our community of innovative councils, please contact Richard Nelmes, Head of Network, on