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Using the carrot rather than the stick

11 February 2013

‘Helping people to make better choices for themselves’ is what David Halpern’s ‘nudge’ unit has been tasked with by David Cameron; exploring ways to encourage us to behave in more socially responsible ways by relying on incentives rather than regulation.

Have your audience at its heart, make changes simple, emphasise the personal benefits and incentivise change, is the mantra that underpins the behaviour change communications campaigns we run at Forster. We aim to find out what is stopping people doing something, understand what might encourage them to do so (not always what they say!) and armed with this develop an ‘exchange’ which meets concerns and aspirations in a way that will propel the audience to act.

Recently we asked people how they felt about rough sleeping and they said guilty; they wanted to help but felt confused about how best to do this. So armed with this insight we developed a brand and messaging for Streetlink, a new DCLG funded hotline for concerned members of the public to contact when they see someone sleeping rough.

Since the launch in December over 10,000 people have contacted Streetlink and thousands have been helped off the streets. So why is it working? Because it provides a simple way for people who want to help to take action. And because Streetlink promises to update the caller within 10 days with news of how the rough sleeper has been helped, you get your reward.

To engage children with the food they eat we worked with the National Trust to incentivise growing by offering free seeds for simple, fast growing, carrots and pumpkins. Children who planted were rewarded with attractive vegetables quickly and their real world gardening was supported by an online game ‘My patch’ which was played by thousands of children.

When working on DCLG’s Inspiring Communities project, we found that there were some common barriers in disadvantaged communities to young people continuing their education and training for a job. With no obvious pathway to take, and a lack of local (realistic) role models, they simply didn’t know where to turn. We created campaigns to create pride in their own community, highlighting the real local heroes – people like them – who had trained and worked locally.

Our work shows that if you focus on an individual’s better instincts and persuade people to make better choices, not only is this beneficial for the individual but as Halpern’s team is demonstrating this means big savings for the taxpayer, surely good for everyone.