Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Buying-in to the Nudge Business

'I'm trying to get really busy people, resistant to change, to do things differently. I have no team, little or no budget and struggle to get buy-in from senior people'. I frequently hear variants of this refrain from clients embarking on knowledge or organisational learning programmes. 

It was refreshing to hear an inspiring success story this week that illustrated what can be achieved with little resource. The Freakonomics podcast 'The White House Gets Into the Nudge Business' features Maya Shankar describing the evolution and eventual success of her behavioural science unit. She tells how she went from convincing sceptical (and sometimes hostile) US government agencies, to being in demand everywhere. The programme is interesting for two reasons; firstly her patient and smart approach to moving generating senior management buy-in (and getting resource along the way). Secondly the stories of their creative behavioural 'nudges'.  

You'll be inspired by the podcast and the real-world examples Shankar shares. Here is a short extract from the programme transcript. Highlights in bold are mine.

STEPHEN DUBNER: You had been mostly a student for the previous bunch of years, so you weren’t a practitioner of either behavioral sciences or a longtime practitioner of policy making, and yet you are made head of this new White House unit...I guess from the outside you could argue it’s a signal that maybe the White House wasn’t very serious about this or wasn’t really expecting all that much out of a unit like that. 

MAYA SHANKAR:  ...I came in without a mandate and without having the authority to simply create this team. What happened as a result is the the team ended up being far more organic. And I remember at the time thinking, “Man, this is kind of frustrating.” Right? I wish there was an easier way for us to get to 'yes', and that I could simply tell our agency projects, “Please take this risk. Run this early pilot with me.” 

But, you know we’ve come to see longer term value in this organic approach. Actually having to convince our agency colleagues to run behavioral projects with us, doing the upfront work to convince them early on that there was inherent value in what we were proposing. We organized 'brown bags' on behavioral insights 101, giving examples of success stories in which behavioral insights were applied to policy. Making sure that we aligned our recommendations with their existing priorities and goals. 

That all has helped in the longer term because I think it’s actually fostering true cultural change and buy-in in agencies. And for that reason, many of our early pilots with agencies have effortlessly led to longer-term collaborations at the request of our agency partners. So you can easily imagine that if I came in and I was able to order these pilots – well, as soon as I left those pilots, that work would probably leave with me. But because we were required to get their buy in, they started demanding this work. They started becoming internal champions for the work. And now we have a government that has a number of internal champions within the agencies that see the value and hopefully help the whole effort persist. 

At the KIN Spring 2017 workshop on 7th March we will take a look at Behavioural Economics and how it can be utilised to effect change in knowledge sharing. We already have a great line-up of practitioners from PwC & UBS, an experiential learning exercise on bias from The Chemistry Group and Prof Peter Ayton deputy Dean of Social Sciences at City University. 

AN mp3 copy of the Freakonomics podcast, along with other behavioural economics material, will be available from the KIN event page.
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