behavioural insights

The Behavioural Science Consortium supplies expertise that benefits government policy and services via their Behavioural Insights Framework, as this joint article from Sheffield Hallam University & The University of Manchester reveals

The Behavioural Science Consortium comprises researchers from Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Manchester working at the cutting edge of behavioural science and public policy across a range of topic areas. We bring with us not just extensive expertise in both qualitative and quantitative approaches to research, but also academics who are actively engaged in world-leading innovations in trials and evaluation and in education and training.

The Crown Commercial Service Behavioural Insights Framework

The Crown Commercial Service Behavioural Insights Framework provides an exciting opportunity for the Behavioural Science Consortium to apply what we know about the science of behaviour change to government policy and services. As the only University-led supplier on the framework, our approach will be informed by progressive, evidence-based approaches and rigorous evaluations to ensure that all government policy and services and their evaluations are informed by only the best behavioural science. We will help organisations identify where behavioural science can be applied to best effect and upskill the workforce to enable them to utilise and apply evidence-based approaches to their work.

Why are expertise and evaluation important?

To change a behaviour one must: want to do it (be motivated), have the skills and knowledge to be able to do it (be capable) and have the resources and social support to do it (have the opportunity) (Michie et al., 2011). This model has provided insights into behaviours, such as self-management of long-term conditions, transport choice, recycling behaviour, relationship and sex education, healthy ageing and the prevention of female genital mutilation and our approach is sufficiently flexible to allow us to understand the behavioural challenges of the future in a systematic science-driven fashion. The Behavioural Science Consortium has a thorough understanding of the evidence so that we can ensure that the approaches we recommend have the best chance of being effective and as such, to avoid making the same old mistakes.

Sometimes behaviour change interventions designed with the best of intentions, but without the appropriate underpinning behavioural insights expertise, can have unintended consequences. For example, in one intervention designed to decrease conception rates, teenagers were provided with a simulated ‘baby’ that required feeding, burping, rocking and nappy changing, and which recorded the level of care provided (for example, the amount of time it was crying). It was widely deployed across several countries, but a recent trial found that it increased conception rates (Brinkman et al., 2016). Evaluation is, therefore, essential to ensure that behaviours are changing in the desired direction. We have expertise in a wide range of research methods and as such, we can draw on the best techniques and methodologies to evaluate existing interventions or to plan practical and rigorous evaluations of new interventions.

What does this approach mean in practice?

Firstly, it means thinking about the ultimate aims of government policies and services in behavioural terms: in that, we need to think about what behaviours need changing. It can be one-off behaviours (for example, throwing chewing gum in a bin), a series of behaviours (such as logging into an online system, completing all sections of the online form, submitting by a deadline), or a few different behaviours (for example, reducing sedentary behaviour, increasing walking and increasing attendance at gym classes). We have effective solutions for each of these types of problems.

Secondly, it means thinking differently about how government policies and services can achieve their aims. For example, “training” is a commonly-proposed solution, but too often it involves providing people with information, which might increase one aspect of their capability to act – but does little to motivate them or provide them with the opportunities to act.

Moreover, providing people with information falsely assumes that they will make rational decisions based on that information. Behavioural science tells us that people behave in ways that reflect a complex mix of rational and irrational decision-making. Understanding how and why people behave in the ways that they do, based on factors such as habits, social influences and the environment around them are essential to design services and policy that truly meet the needs of the public.

Thirdly, we will ensure that the chosen intervention addresses the factors that are most likely to make a difference and help to decide what needs to change. This can be done quickly, where there is a good prior understanding of the barriers, or we can undertake research to identify what those barriers are. Our approach considers a wide range of types of intervention, with an understanding that one-size rarely fits all and that different problems require different solutions. With our large team of experts that have the knowledge of the evidence base, we will identify key techniques to change behaviour for the given situation and population, with a focus on choosing techniques for which there is good evidence of effectiveness and that fit within the constraints of a given service or context.

Getting in touch

If you would like to find out more about the Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Manchester Behavioural Science Consortium and the services we can offer your organisation or service, then feel free to visit our website.


Brinkman et al. (2016). Efficacy of infant simulator programmes to prevent teenage pregnancy: a school-based cluster randomised controlled trial in Western Australia. The Lancet, 388(10057), 2264-2271.

Michie, S., Van Stralen, M. M., & West, R. (2011). The behaviour change wheel: a new method for characterising and designing behaviour change interventions. Implementation Science, 6 (1), 42.

Please note: this is a commercial profile


Professor Madelynne Arden

Professor of Health Psychology and Project Lead for the Behavioural

Science Consortium

Behavioural Science Consortium,

Sheffield Hallam University & The University of Manchester

Tel: +44 (0)114 225 5623


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