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PACE blog - thoughts on the new programme from Jessica Matthew, Department for Transport

Behavioural change has risen in public awareness, partly through its role in shaping the government’s response to the pandemic, but also because of its influence in achieving wider policy aims.

Unsurprisingly, this influence has spread to the public sector and to place directors faced with meeting climate change targets amongst much else. It is fitting, therefore, that behavioural change is the subject of the first session from PACE, the new programme from ADEPT and Amey.

Among the first cohort are the two Co-Directors of Local Transport from the Department for Transport (DfT) – Stephen Fidler and Jessica Matthew. We are delighted that Jessica has found the time to talk about this first session for the new blog.

Understanding how the local government world works direct from senior people is really important to people like Stephen and I. To see challenges and constraints from their perspective, what is feasible and what they'd really like from central government, and to have those frank, open conversations in an informal setting is a rare opportunity.

It's also really helpful to be reminded about that more strategic way of thinking and behaviour change, how to influence people, what works and what doesn't work so well. I find taking that time out of the office and taking a step back to really think hugely beneficial.

I liked the academic rigour implicit in the session design, with speakers including Professor Angel Chater from UCL and Max Mawby from the Thinks Insight and Strategy consultancy. Examining the principles behind the Behaviour Change Wheel (BCW) model and the three essential elements that influence behaviour - capability, motivation and opportunity (COM-B) – were well supported by the case studies and examples that put theory into practice.

Active Herts programme

Active Herts, designed by Hertfordshire County Council, was a programme rooted in behavioural change theory. Using the BCW to evaluate questions including:

  • Which behaviour is targeted for change?
  • What will it take to bring about the desired change (COM-B)?
  • Which intervention strategies might be relevant?
  • Which techniques will deliver the intervention strategies?
  • How will the intervention be put into practice?
  • How will the intervention be evaluated?

Behavioural theory, barriers and interventions

With the support of an excellent facilitator, we spent the afternoon discussing examples and applications of behavioural theory we could apply to different issues.

The reasons why and how you might want to do things is similar across local authorities and (DfT), it's just the scale of delivery that is different and how close you are to the actual implementation.

We had the opportunity to have discussions about what barriers can stop ostensibly rational interventions from happening - what's pulling in the opposite direction? That can sometimes be quite difficult to understand from a central government level. Is it that councillors don't like it? Is it that actually, something provides an income stream that's really valuable? Is it that it’s really complex? Is it difficult to motivate your staff to do it?

In the day job, we can look at what interventions will work best and sessions like these potentially can have a direct application in what kind of funding we might ask for.  For example, how the capital funded, lumpy infrastructure type in-bench interventions might work best with coaxing and persuading people.

All of these different elements, which you're never going to read in an official document, can really come out in conversation and flow back into future policy or funding later.

Of course, one of the other benefits of being involved in these strategic conversations is what emerges in the margins, outside the room and over dinner the night before. I had some very interesting and valuable discussions about devolution and approaches to devolution, how devolution deals work, whether they should be more systematic or not and the advantages of having a less systematic approach.

It was an invaluable opportunity to bond and I look forward to what insights come out of our next session.

The programme outputs can be downloaded here: PACE Session 1 output - the Art of Behavioural Insight

Further information

  • The joint venture is designed to provide thought leaders with the space to find strategic solutions that are Pioneering, Action-orientated, Creative and Entrepreneurial (PACE). Designed exclusively for place directors and senior leadership, two of the fundamental principles behind PACE is to influence the future of place-focused strategies and support place leaders in driving change.
  • The programme outputs can be downloaded here: PACE Session 1 output - the Art of Behavioural Insight
  • Further information can be found here:

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