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BiteSCIze with Colin Strong

Who are you?

I’m Colin Strong, Head of Behavioural Science at Ipsos and Professor of Practice at Nottingham University Business School. Along with a few others I also write the Frontline Be Sci blog.

How did you get into Behavioural Science?

So my academic background was framed to a large degree by the work of Kahneman and Tversky, with my undergrad dissertation being on framing effects relating to seat belt usage (seat belt legislation had recently been passed which tells you how long ago it was!) I then went on to do a master’s in applied psychology at Cranfield and after a brief stint in an academic research role plus one or two twists and turns in my twenties, I started work in market research. It was only in relatively recent times that Behavioural Science really came to the fore, and I was able to bring it into the work we were doing.  And then about seven years ago Ben Page recruited me to lead behavioural science at Ipsos, for which I am very grateful.  It has proved to be an exciting and inspiring place to be working.

What are you working on right now? 

Right now, I am working on a range of different projects with the team ranging from supporting people in good oral health, supporting pharmacists in their discussions with patients about pain, taking a closer look at the working styles of pulmonologists and preparing to talk to a range of organisations about the way behavioural science can help people better understand business decision making.  I do things like write pieces for Frontline Be Sci on UFOs and aliens, so quite a variety!

What do you like most about what you do?

I love being handed a business or policy challenge and seeing what we can do to help.  In my mind practitioners (compared to academics) tend to roam around different bodies of knowledge to find the best way to answer a question – this is partly what makes the task interesting of course.  Also, interacting with marketeers, policy makers and my colleagues in the Ipsos behavioural science and research teams means that it is a very collegiate and collaborative activity.  Working alongside others is definitely the best way to find new solutions and creative approaches to longstanding behaviour change challenges as well as making the job stimulating and enjoyable.

What is the role of communications in changing behaviour?

Communications is at the heart of how we share knowledge, emotion, ways of being – and as such it is at the core of what we are about. I think we have recently started to better understand the collective nature of our behaviour and with that the role that communications play. But at the same time, it is only one part of a much wider jigsaw of influences that we need to be cognisant of as behavioural scientists – we cannot rely on communications alone to change behaviour.

 If you could work/research any topic what would it be and why?

I enjoy roaming around different marketing, policy and societal topics so I would not really want to work on one area – I also think that having a breadth of experience allows you to pull things over from one area to another in a way that provokes new ideas. But perhaps we can pull all those disparate areas into one core question – how do we change? And that is at the heart of so many challenges that makes it a hugely important and exciting topic for all of us, in both our professional and personal lives.  In many ways managing change is at the heart of being human so I think this is the topic, albeit a very broad one!

 What is your favourite behavioural science paper/book/resource and why?

I tend to get my inspiration from other sources – I love the work of Mary Midgely (I think Science and Poetry should be required reading for practitioners) and I have recently been reading about Millennialism, the notion that we are living in end times. We have seen this at other points in history (such as in the nineteenth century when there were huge societal changes) and I think this is subtly shaping a lot of attitudes and behaviours.  My tendency is to find inspiration from other fields and then think through the behavioural science implications.

 Who do you think is interesting in the general field?

One of the great things about working in this field is that there are many interesting people to talk to so it is impossible to have a complete list. But I always enjoy talking with my friends Peter Ayton, Magda Osman and Tamara Ansons – they always have interesting angles and exciting projects. Others I enjoy chatting with include Lee de Wit, Laura de Moliere , Steven Johnson, Elina Halonen and of course my colleagues at Ipsos who include Anna Meadows, Lisa Sutherland, Leanne Chan and Patrick Jordan as well as the wider behavioural team that includes Jesse Itzkowitz and Greg Gwiasda. I could go on!

What haven’t we asked you that we should have?

I think increasingly the behaviour change skill set will be a significant part of the day-to-day work of many people in organisations. Change comes when people that want to make change happen, have the tools to support them to do it.  Surely democratization is the way forward for widespread change to happen.

Who is one person that we can speak to for our next interview and if you could ask them one question, what would it be?

Although she is not a behavioural scientist, I would love to hear more from the ever-thoughtful Taylor Crain about the way digital games might be a catalyst for change.

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