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Behavioural insights

Behavioural Insights

Behavioural insights involves the study of human behaviour, often drawing on empirical research in fields including economics, psychology and sociology.

On this page:

Why you should use it
What it involves
What you will get out of it
Ideal circumstances for use
References, guides and key readings
Tools or concepts
Case studies
Centres of expertise
Community of practice

Why you should use it

Behavioural insights can be useful in a policy context to:

  • identify the behavioural factors and biases affecting people’s choices
  • develop options for designing future policy that is informed by evidence of human and organisational behaviour
  • understand how people and organisations actually behave, to help design and implement more effective or targeted policies, and consider the best lever(s) to use to make an impact

Behavioural insights are most commonly applied in regulatory and social policy, but can be applied more widely.

What it involves

Applying behavioural insights uses tools such as ethnography, interviews, observation, data analysis and experiments to deliver:

  • A deeper understanding of what drives behaviour – for example, what contextual and behavioural factors drive people to respond as they currently do? How do responses differ within and across groups? What factors could we change to deliver a better outcome?
  • Tested options – once potential changes are identified, options can be tested (in groups, in labs or in field trials) to determine what works best.
  • Better policy design – changes to policy settings proven through testing can be embedded in final policy recommendations, implemented and spread.

How people make decisions is complex and the small details of policy implementation can make a big difference to its impact. A behavioural insights approach recognises this, and encourages the use of robust evaluations, such as randomised control trials to test what works.  

What you will get out of it

  • Policies that are based on how people or organisations actually behave.
  • Innovative proposals that challenge existing assumptions.
  • Results that are lower-cost, more targeted and higher impact than many alternative methods.

Ideal circumstances for use

  • You are seeking to change the behaviour of people, groups or organisations.
  • You want to understand an issue or situation from the perspective of end-users.
  • You are working in an early stage of policy development, where there is still room to shape the design.
  • Previous policies, incentives or approaches in your context have underperformed, but there is no general consensus on why.


Behavioural theory may not be suited to circumstances in which:

  • your policy problem has already been narrowly defined to exclude behavioural factors or you are limited in the policy responses or levers that can be used.
  • you are unable to analyse end-user behaviour (for example due to ethical concerns or timeframes).
  • when considering these limitations, it is also worth analysing the degree to which using pre-defined levers or not understanding end-user behaviour gives rise to its own risks and issues.

References, guides and key readings

BASIC Toolkit – OECD has developed a draft  BI toolkit for policy makers with a step-by-step process for analysing a policy problem, building strategies, and developing behaviourally informed interventions.

Behavioural Government: Using behavioural science to improve how governments make decisions – UK Behavioural Insights Team, 2018.

Behavioural Insights and the Rise of Empirical Government – Roundtable with Dr David Halpern, 2017.

Behavioural Insights and Public Policy: Lessons from Around the World – OECD, 2017 – includes case study examples of applications for behavioural insights to public policy and service delivery initiatives from around the world.

MINDSPACE – UK Behavioural Insights Team, 2010.

Behavioural Insights Applied to Policy – European Commission report. Includes a focus on the organisational structures and resources required for improving the uptake of behavioural insights.

Mind, Society and Behaviour – World Bank report into applying behavioural insights in policy, including case studies.

A guide to reducing the effects of scarcity with simplification, timing and salience – This guide applies behavioural insights to provide practical tips and strategies to reduce the effects of scarcity when developing government services for people who are already under pressure.

Poverty and decision making – The UK takes a behavioural lens to understanding the drivers of poverty, and offers innovative policy ideas for tackling it.

Tools or concepts

EAST Framework – Practical tool for policy practitioners to consider applying behavioural insights in their work.

Guide to Developing Behavioural Interventions – Nine guiding questions to consider when developing behavioural interventions for randomised control trials.

Behaviour Change Wheel – University College, UK – Practical guide to designing interventions involving behavioural change based on a range of behavioural frameworks.

Behavioural Change Models – A summary of different behavioural change models.

Behavioural Insights for Education – Guide for education policy practitioners to consider the impacts that can be delivered by changing what parents, teachers and children say and do.

Applying Behavioural Insights: Simple Ways to Improve Health Outcomes – Guide for health policy practitioners to consider the role of behavioural insights in delivering better health outcomes at a lower cost.

Journey mapping

Case studies

More examples of applying behavioural insights to policy problems in the New Zealand public sector can be found under the Communities of practice section.

Encouraging Fund Choice in KiwiSaver: Trial 1 and Trial 2 – The Financial Markets Authority has two trials with KiwiSaver providers to see if behavioural prompts increased the number of active fund choices that members made.

‘Nudging’ Visitors to Notice Safeswim Signs – Auckland Council ran a trial to see whether placement of pavement graphics would encourage more people to notice and read Safeswim signs. 

Increasing Voter Turnout Using Behavioural Insights – Auckland Council conducted a review of international best practice in behavioural insights to consider ways to increase voter turnout. 

The Rere Story – The Ministry for the Environment funded research to understand more about what supports behaviour change on the ground in rural communities, to improve environmental outcomes. 

Centres of expertise

Behavioural Insights Unit (Victoria) – Department of the Premier & Cabinet, Victoria, Australia.

Behavioural Economics Team – Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australia.

Behavioural Insights Unit (NSW) – Department of the Premier & Cabinet, New South Wales, Australia.

Communities of practice

Promote the use of behavioural insights to support robust policy outcomes and create a community where practitioners can share expertise and collaborate on projects.

New Zealand Behavioural Insights Community of Practice
Email the Policy Project at to be included in future 'community of practice' emails and events. Materials from previous events include:

Encouraging Sustainable Food Choices – Thea Knight from PwC discussed the insights from a behavioural based project for Auckland Council encouraging sustainable food choices.

Whāriki Haumaru: A partnered approach to clearing Warrants to Arrest – Kaori Takenaka and Caitlin Spence from Behavioural Science Aotearoa shared the findings of a project bringing together behavioural science and te ao Māori to clear Warrants to Arrest.

Climate Change and Behaviour Change – Marcos Pelenur and Jo Bye from the Energy, Efficiency and Conservation Authority shared learnings and priorities in motivating a generation to take climate positive action.

Justice Sector Behavioural Science Service Update – Erica Voss, Establishment Manager, and Brendan Rose, Advisor, from the Behavioural Science Service shared how they came to establish a behavioural insights unit working across the justice sector. They explained how they applied a behavioural insights approach to recruiting the team, are establishing robust processes (including prioritisation of projects), and the next steps for the unit.   

The establishment of behavioural insight units in three Australian governments – Brian Head and Stephen Jones shared the results of their research into the use of behavioural insights in the public sector in New South Wales, Victoria and the Commonwealth Government in Australia

Embedding the use of Behavioural Insights – Presenting on the challenges and lessons learned from the perspective of a cross agency Behavioural Insights Group, dedicated Behavioural Insights Team, and the use of experts from a Behavioural Consultancy.

EAST Framework – If you want to encourage a behaviour (nudge!), make it Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely (EAST)

Reducing Barriers to Electric Vehicle (EV) Uptake – Ed Hearnshaw and Mahesh Girvan – Ministry for the Environment

Why Small Details Matter – Lee McCauley – Behavioural Insights Ltd

Behavioural Insights Community of Practice – Inaugural event held on 19 April 2018

NZ Interagency Behavioural Insights Group (natural resource sector focus):

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Last updated: 
Monday, 6 December 2021

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