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BiteSCIze with Jo Hale
  • Who are you?

At work, I’m a research fellow at UCL Centre for Behaviour Change (CBC). My current research is a bit ‘meta’ because I focus on how we can improve national capability in the field of behavioural research, as part of Behavioural Research UK (BR-UK). For five years before that my role focused on climate change and environmental sustainability, so that’s a big part of my work identity too. Outside of work I’m a choir singer and a cat mum. 

  • How did you get into Behavioural Science?

I first thought of myself as a behavioural scientist after I joined CBC in 2018. I’d done my bachelor’s degree, master’s and PhD in psychology, and through some great opportunities during my studies I learned that I love learning about new topics and methods; I’m most excited working at the interface between science and policy; and I really enjoy feeling useful and making a difference to people. I saw and applied for an ideal role at CBC, which was to be part of an international team working with city governments to accelerate climate action and improve health outcomes.

  • What are you working on right now? 

Right now, I and my BR-UK colleagues are trying to build the most comprehensive picture to date of behavioural research activity in the UK (no mean feat!). We’ve just launched a nation-wide survey and want to hear from as many people as possible who work in this space, so that we can understand who is doing what, and where more and better behavioural research is needed. Along with other activities like mapping organisations and holding workshops, the survey is going to feed into next steps for BR-UK, which include setting up a national network and a research fund for new projects.

  • What do you like most about what you do?

I have two favourite things that probably go together. One is connecting people – I just really enjoy making introductions and seeing benefits come from it (even though, sadly, I’m terrible at romantic match-making). The second one is systems mapping – or rather, getting to try out new and different ways of bringing systems thinking into behaviour change workflows. Any time I get to do show-and-tell about systems maps I’m in my comfort zone.  

  • What role is there for communications in changing behaviour?

On the one hand, it’s essential because it’s pretty difficult to make any meaningful change without communicating. On the flip side, communications campaigns (if that’s your tool of choice) are just one option and may not be the only or best way of changing behaviour in a given context. I think a recent project I delivered about littering illustrates quite nicely. It involved building a systems map of individual, social and material factors that contribute to littering behaviour. After building the map we could see that only a small fraction of these drivers could be directly addressed by communications. But the map itself was a really helpful vehicle for communicating about the problem and understanding what types of interventions might be needed in combination.

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

Serious answer: I would like to be involved in research on ending homelessness, because I think this enormously complex problem needs greater attention and action. 

Less serious answer: I would love to do research about sleep or animal cognition (or both) because I think the answers would be even more fascinating than the questions. 

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

I always recommend Systems Mapping: How to build and use causal models of systems by Pete Barbrook-Johnson and Alex Penn. It’s a free PDF handbook that explains different systems mapping methods in a super clear and accessible way. It’s not badged as a behavioural science book but I refer to it all the time because it’s so useful.

  • Who do you think is interesting in the general field?

Luke Craven, systems change practitioner and Visiting Fellow at UNSW Canberra. Luke does really exciting work with policy and NGO teams to bring about systems change. He also developed a very cool systems mapping methodology and software platform called System Effects.

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

How can I make the most of the opportunities to engage with Behavioural Research UK? Tell us about your role and what you want to see, through our 10-minute survey.

  • 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?

Esther Flanagan, behaviour change lead at the college for policing. How do you navigate working as a behavioural scientist on such difficult and emotive challenges as racism and sexism, and what has it taught you about changing behaviour?

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