- Who are you?
I am a behavioural science consultant, former head of behavioural science at the UK Government‘s Cabinet Office.
- How did you get into Behavioural Science?
I think the right question is how did behavioural science get into me (ha). For as long as I can remember, psychology and science more broadly has been my way of making sense of the world. My obsession with it was so intense that I was even allowed to attend university lectures 3 years before graduating from school (or maybe the teachers just had enough of me, who knows ;)). A BSc in psychology and then a PhD in cognitive decision-sciences followed. During that time, I discovered applied behavioural science – it was an interesting moment of the replication crisis in academia on one hand and the chance to have an impact on problems that mattered on the other. I ended up co-founding my company at the same time as I jumped head first into the UK Government.
- What are you working on right now?
I am currently living the dream of a really wide portfolio of projects that all matter to me and “spark joy”, with about a 50:50 split between work in the development sector and work in projects relating to public policy. From topics relating to climate change, humanitarian crises, health, advocacy…and I am also doing quite a bit of work on BSci and AI.
- What do you like most about what you do?
I love bringing a different viewpoint to complex problems, and get a lot of joy from bringing the kind of perspectives that make you go “of course!”. I take great pride in moving problems to a place where people can hold them in their hands in a shape that they can act on.
- What role is there for communications in changing behaviour?
When we go beyond communication as one “lever” positioned alongside others, it is a glue that holds together most behaviour change initiatives in one way or another. It ensures that information flows to audiences in the right way, but also allows for two-way interactions and feedback loops. Of course, the assumption that communication (in the form of it being a lever, e.g. a campaign) alone can change behaviour is often flawed, too (and a lovely bi-product of the fundamental attribution error).
- If you could work/research any topic what would it be and why?
I am currently interested in complexity theory and how it relates to behavioural science, I am keen to explore how BSci and AI can join forces more deeply (also for the development of AI going forward), and on a slightly less serious note have been considering how one can design customisable calendars for time-space synasthesists like myself…time as displayed in calendars never looks like it should.
- What is your favourite behavioural science paper/book/resource and why?
I will go with a relatively classic one – the behaviour change wheel. No, it is not the “fanciest” of things out there, but it is rigorous and I think one of the resources that had one of the biggest impacts on how behavioural science is practiced in public policy in recent years.
- Who do you think is interesting in the general field?
I think blending agent-based models with behavioural science / disinformation is really exciting, and Jens Koed Madsen does some cool work around this. I also think that Prof Magda Osman frequently grounds the field in the questions that need to be asked.
- What haven’t we asked you that we should have?
Why are you so emotionally attached to Bayes theorem?
- 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?
I would ask Keith O‘Brien what‘s new in the field of persuasion.
If you would like to read our previous bitescize interview with Alan Tapp, click here.