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The world’s behavioural experts descend on Singapore for BX2017


June 30, 2017 Samuel Hanes and Aisling Ní Chonaire

Over the last couple of days, the Singaporean government hosted 400 practitioners from government, academia and business for the 4th Behavioural Exchange (BX) conference. The aim of the annual conference is to showcase the best examples from around the world of applying behavioural science to public policy. We have picked a few examples below to give you a flavour of the breadth and depth of this year’s conference.

Peter Ong, the head of the Singaporean Civil Service, opened BX2017 by praising the dramatic progress of the last decade. He drew attention to BIT and the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) trial to increase prudent retirement savings decisions. MOM doubled attendance at retirement planning sessions for those close to retirement using the phrase: “We have reserved a place for you” (this is the ‘Personalised + pre-commitment’ bar in the chart below).

Jerril Rechter from VicHealth presented some impressive results showing how clever use of signage and drinking fountain placement increased water consumption in sports stadiums. Patricia De Jonge from the Dutch Authority for the Financial Markets showed that warnings on financial products may be less effective than policymakers would like, and highlighted the responsibility to counter behavioural insights used against consumers.

Professor Lorenz Goette from National University Singapore showed that emotive water meters, displaying ice caps melting around a polar bear, reduced shower water consumption. Working with the Public Utilities Board in Singapore, and building on research from Switzerland, water consumption was reduced by four litres per shower with the introduction of the dynamic display.

Professor Dean Karlan from Yale discussed his work on ‘commitment’ devices, which included some entertaining and engaging personal experiences. His research shows the effectiveness of ‘increasing the price of vice’, for example by setting aside money that you will lose if you don’t achieve a goal. His website Stickk.com has more details for those who want to give it a try.

Rayid Ghani from the University of Chicago showed how data can improve predictions for which babies will suffer from lead poisoning and which police officers are at risk of ‘adverse events’. He said that the next challenge is engaging social scientists to deliver and test interventions once the predictions have been made. At BIT we have been thinking about how data science can support our work and will be publishing our first paper on the subject later this year.

The BX conference shows that the behavioural insights community is now truly global. We heard speakers from the Netherlands, South Africa, Indonesia, India, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, the USA and the UK. Videos of all of the sessions will be available shortly.

We look forward to seeing new results and even more nations at BX2018, hosted in Australia next year!

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