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Behavioural insights can help effect change

Understand why people behave the way they do and you can ‘nudge’ them in a better direction, says Caroline Shuldham.
Fitness tracker

Understand why people behave the way they do and you can nudge them in a better direction, says Caroline Shuldham

Change is a constant factor in everyday life and in health services. Nurses in all sectors are involved in improving their practice, pathways and services, but it is a challenge to ensure that everyone does what is expected.

Policies may be published, recommendations for practice made, people trained, but none of these guarantees that improvements are implemented. This is where the notion of behavioural insights comes in, with the question: What will it take to change the behaviour to what we want it to be?

Better direction

The idea is to design initiatives in a way that draws on an understanding of why people behave in certain ways, influencing the choices

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Understand why people behave the way they do and you can ‘nudge’ them in a better direction, says Caroline Shuldham 

Fitness tracker
Fitness trackers use vibrations to celebrate good feedback. iStock

Change is a constant factor in everyday life and in health services.  Nurses in all sectors are involved in improving their practice, pathways and services, but it is a challenge to ensure that everyone does what is expected. 

Policies may be published, recommendations for practice made, people trained, but none of these guarantees that improvements are implemented. This is where the notion of behavioural insights comes in, with the question: ‘What will it take to change the behaviour to what we want it to be?’

Better direction

The idea is to design initiatives in a way that draws on an understanding of why people behave in certain ways, influencing the choices they make and nudging them in a better direction. Think about the process at an ATM: the card is removed before the money as people will not leave without their money but might go without their card if that were the last part of the transaction.  

Such behavioural insights have been explored in healthcare in areas such as smoking cessation, reducing missed appointments and medication errors. 

In healthcare, behavioural insights can be employed to influence, that is nudge, staff, patients and the public. There are experts in this area, on-line information and even a behavioural insights team (known colloquially as the nudge unit) working in partnership with the Cabinet Office. 

Techniques

Nurses are familiar with many nudge techniques, such as posters or text messages and feedback with reminders and audit. We know that feedback is important, as seen for example in the way fitness trackers vibrate to celebrate 10,000 steps in a day. 

However, when we think about how and why people act in a certain way we also need to think about how a different design will steer them in an alternative direction without removing their freedom of choice. Behavioural insights can then be used to reduce some and increase other behaviours to render a change more effective.


About the author

Caroline Shuldham is chair of the RCNi editorial advisory board. A former nursing director, she works independently advising on research, teaching and mentoring 

 

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