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The Problem With Behavioural Economics

Williams Behaviour Change ModelLast Friday in between calls I dipped in and out of the brilliant Nudgestock (you can see all the talks over on the Ogilvy Consulting YouTube channel). A favourite talk that I caught from the day came from Bri Williams early on. One of the biggest challenges with behavioural economics (for me at least) is that whilst it clearly incorporates some powerful concepts it can come across as a relatively unconnected list of disparate biases and tactics. Which can mean that applying it in an integrated way can be challenging. Bri makes this point in her talk – behavioural economics doesn't have a cohesive framework that pulls together all of the hundreds of different biases and heuristics, which means that it can be difficult to work with when designing a response or solution. Or put another way:

'To be useful behavioural economics needs to evolve from a series of interesting anecdotes to a framework that can help analyse and resolve behavioural challenges'

The simple premise behind Bri's framework is that in order to get people from point A to point B there are three fundamental behavioural barriers that need to be overcome related to apathy, paralysis and anxiety. To reduce apathy we need to rebalance effort and reward – make it seem or feel gloriously simple (processing fluency) or make the payback seem or feel bigger. To overcome paralysis we need to clarify, and to counteract anxiety (such as loss aversion) we need to mitigate through techniques to normalise, reassure and spur action. It's deceptively simple to apply, but then the best frameworks always are. You can see the whole of Bri's short talk below.

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