CHAPTER 1: Introduction
1.1. Many of the goals to which governments aspiresuch
as bringing down levels of crime, reducing unemployment, increasing
savings and meeting targets for carbon emissionscan be
achieved only if people change their behaviour. Consequently,
understanding how to change the behaviour of populations should
be a concern for any government if it is to be successful. Recent
examples of behaviour change initiatives that have had significant
success include policies to reduce smoking and drink-driving and
to increase the use of condoms to protect sexual health.
1.2. The current Government have said that they
intend to use what they describe as more "intelligent ways"
to change people's behaviour and so challenge "the assumption"
that central government can only change behaviour by "rules
As a result, since taking office, their focus has been on non-regulatory
interventions and, in particular, on the concept of "nudging",
an idea made fashionable in recent years by Richard Thaler and
Cass Sunstein in their book Nudge. The purpose of this
inquiry was to consider whether the Government's approach is an
effective one and whether it can be improved. In doing so, we
have looked at what the "sciences of human behaviour"
can show about changing people's behaviour, how behaviour change
research is applied to the formulation of Government policies
and whether the Government have taken sufficient steps to ensure
that behaviour change policies are evidence-based and properly
1.3. We acknowledge that there are a range of
issues about the ethical acceptability of behaviour change interventions
and that, in some circumstances, changing behaviour will be considered
controversial. Though these issues are important, we have not
explored them in detail in this report but have instead highlighted
them as matters which policy makers should take into account when
formulating and implementing behaviour change interventions.
Scope of the inquiry
1.4. Although the current Government have focused
to achieve behaviour change that [are] non-regulatory
in character", it became clear to us during the course of
this inquiry that assessing the effectiveness of non-regulatory
interventions could be done only by looking at them in the context
of the whole range of interventions, both non-regulatory and regulatory.
We have not, therefore, restricted ourselves to considering the
effectiveness of non-regulatory interventions but have examined
the evidence relating to a variety of policies to change behaviour.
1.5. That is not to say that we have assessed
each and every Government policy which is intended to change behaviour.
Instead, we have directed our attention to the extent to which
the Government are making best use of the contribution of disciplines
such as neuroscience, psychology, sociology and behavioural economics
to the formulation of policy.
1.6. To complement this broad approach, we have
also undertaken two case studies. We chose these case studies
on the ground that both policy areas raise significant challenges
which need to be addressed urgently,
and for which changing behaviour will be central to success. The
first looks at Government behaviour change interventions to reduce
the prevalence of obesity and the second at interventions to reduce
car use in order to limit CO2 emissions. This choice
of topics illustrates attempts to change behaviour first for the
benefit of individuals, and second for the benefit of the wider
community now and in the future.
1.7. Though, as a consequence of undertaking
the case studies, this report highlights the work of the Department
of Health (DH) and the Department for Transport (DfT), we believe
that our conclusions and recommendations are relevant to all Government
Structure of the report
1.8. In Chapter 2, we discuss some of the terminology
relating to behaviour change, clarify how we use various terms
in this report and briefly consider some of the ethical and other
issues associated with behaviour change interventions. In Chapter
3, we look at what science can tell us about how to influence
behaviour and the strength of the evidence-base. In Chapter 4,
we consider the extent to which the Government make use of the
available evidence about how to change behaviour and how this
might be improved. In Chapter 5, we look at the potential impact
of central Government's approach to changing behaviour. In Chapter
6, we consider whether the Government evaluate their interventions
appropriately and discuss how evaluation could be improved. Chapter
7 sets out the findings from our two case studies.
1.9. The membership and interests of the Committee
are set out in Appendix 1, and those who submitted written and
oral evidence are listed in Appendix 2. The calls for evidence
for this inquiry are reprinted in Appendix 3. In October 2010
we held a seminar on changing behaviour to reduce the prevalence
of obesity, a note of which is set out in Appendix 4. In January
2011 we held a seminar on changing behaviour to reduce emissions
from car use, a note of which is set out in Appendix 5. In February
2011 we held a seminar on the ethics of behaviour change, a note
of which is set out in Appendix 6. We thank all those who assisted
us in our work.
1.10. Finally, we are grateful to our Specialist
Adviser, Professor Charles Abraham, Professor of Behaviour
Change at the Peninsula Medical School at the University of Exeter,
for his expertise and guidance during this inquiry. We stress,
however, that the conclusions we draw and the recommendations
we make are ours alone.
1 The Coalition: our programme for Government,
Cabinet Office (May 2010). Back
A 2007 Foresight report, Tackling obesities: future choices,
estimated that, without action, obesity-related diseases will
cost society £49.9 billion a year by 2050. The Climate Change
Act 2008 requires the UK to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80%
by 2050. Back