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Applied: BIT’s first behavioural product


February 21, 2017 Owain Service

When the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) was established back in 2010, we often concluded that the solution to a problem faced by government wasn’t always a new policy or intervention. It was a tool – like a new website, app, or even physical product – that individuals or organisations could use to help them solve real-world problems.

So when we set BIT up as a social purpose company in 2014, still partly owned by the UK Government but with greater freedom to do things differently, one of the things that we were most excited about was the opportunity it offered us to start building new products. We are calling this new arm of BIT BI Ventures. The aim of BI Ventures is to use behavioural science to build scalable products that have social impact.

The first of these new products is called Applied – a recruitment platform that helps organisations to remove behavioural biases from their hiring decisions.

We built Applied because we realised that it was difficult for most HR functions, even in big organisations, to keep up with the latest behavioural research on how to hire the best people. Even if you do know the research, the latest studies show that it’s hard to apply these lessons in practice without implicit biases creeping in.

For example, several studies have shown how hiring managers are affected by the names of applicants. For example, several studies have shown how hiring managers are affected by the names of applicants. CVs containing identical qualifications were submitted in applications for job vacancies – all that differed were the names of the applicants. The results showed that names that implicitly signify certain races are less likely to be called to interview.

Other studies, including Applied’s own research, have shown that we are affected to a much greater extent than we realise by the order in which we see information. This means that the first application we read gets more attention than it deserves and that the first couple of lines of an application form affect what follows (either positively or negatively). I’ve heard people giving advice to those applying for Civil Service jobs before that they should focus almost exclusively on the first paragraph of the application form, on the grounds that everything else will be skimmed, not read properly.

Applied helps organisations to use the latest available evidence without having to read all the latest studies, by incorporating their most important conclusions into an online platform. Some of these features are straightforward: people sifting applications never see a candidate’s name or other background markers (e.g. where they went to school). Others are more complex: each application is chunked up into separate work-related tasks, each of which is independently reviewed by those carrying out the sift. And the order of these reviews is randomised so as to remove any ordering effects.

We are immensely proud of Applied, and the work that Kate, Theo and Rich – the founding team – have done to create such a great platform. That’s why on the 23rd February we will be celebrating its launch as our first new venture with some of the organisations that are already using Applied. Some of these are very large, employing thousands of people (the UK and Australian Governments, Penguin Random House and Cancer Research UK); while others are much smaller (the Institute for Government, 2020 Delivery, and Boston Consulting Group’s Centre for Public Impact).

One organisation that will be represented is BIT itself. We, of course, run our recruitment through Applied, and we have found it helps us to make smarter, fairer and better recruitment decisions. To find out more, go to beapplied.com

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