Last September, we learned about ‘a secretive department set up in Downing Street’
call the Behavioural Insight Team (BIT) – aka David Cameron’s ‘Nudge Unit’. Here is
the news in a contemporaneous article from The Guardian.
This week, The Sunday Times picked up on the story:
‘The BIT has been disseminating its ideas to government departments which are now
implementing nudgy policies. Francis Maude, the minister for the Cabinet Office, says
that “evidence from across the world suggests that behavioural insights can deliver
considerable benefits and save money”. In the past 10 days a number of new policies
have been announced that owe their genesis to these theories …..
Critics complain that “behavioural insights” are little more than snake oil gimmicks
dressed up as policy wonkery. Advertising agencies have been hooking our
sensibilities with clever words, they say’.
I’m not sure what that last paragraph means but let’s read on because the exciting
bit is about to come. Yes, Rory Sutherland gets his say. I think Rory has been one of
the best Presidents of the IPA we have ever had, but here he is described as ‘the
vice-chairman of Ogilvy, a marketing agency’.
I am delighted that Rory’s proposition (if not the vital role he has performed for our
business) has, at last, been recognised at Government level. Indeed:
‘Cameron is such a fan of behavioural insights that he has appointed his cabinet
secretary, Gus O’Donnell, chairman of the BIT. It is part of his drive for a big society
in which people are given more freedom and responsibility over their lives, with
government providing nudges for guidance’.
I wonder how many creative people are in this BIT?
Surely Rory Sutherland must get the credit for nudging the government into nudging
– arise, Sir Rory! – so there must be creative people in there. But who are they?
In these posts, I try to avoid discussing creative work or issues. But surely it follows
there is a creative role here? Behavioural Insight – Nudge – Innovation – Creativity.
Before the creative input, how much disciplined and objective strategic planning is
going on? Where is the ‘upstream’ consumer insight?
This is where I can contribute.
And my view is that before the Government starts nudging the common people, it
needs to look at itself.
There are nudges and insights that could be applied to the Role of Government, and
the way it is structured, that precede what the Conservatives can do to nudge the
plebs into Big Society behaviour.
For example, what are the roles that are important to good government and that the
common people in the Big Society cannot manage?
In Prime Minister’s Questions this week, David Cameron said:
‘We have an enormous terrorist threat’.
What a surprise.
But, as I wrote in March 2010:
‘Why is it that the responsibility of countering terrorism within Britain is the
responsibility of The Home Office (i.e. the Police), but outside Britain is the
responsibility of the Ministry of Defence (i.e. the Military)? …. Surely terrorism is an
international problem that, like the internet, transcends national borders? …. In my
experience, expecting two units within one Government Department to communicate
with each other is a recipe for disaster, let alone two completely different
Departments with different hierarchies and different Ministers…. I reckon this
muddled management structure makes us sitting ducks.’
I also urged a more sophisticated use of new media in the war against terrorism.
Perhaps the 07/07 inquest that is currently taking place will nudge the Secretary of
State for Defence, The Right Honourable Liam Fox MP, towards a more united and
innovative resistance to this ‘enormous threat’.
Mind you, he isn’t responsible for Police. That’s the Home Office.
2. Home Office
As well as counter-acting terrorism and stopping drivers from speeding, on Thursday
9 December last year, one arm of the Police were on duty not controlling the student
rioters when the other arm was not protecting Prince Charles and Camilla on their
night out to The Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium.
As the Daily Telegraph reported on 11 December 2010:
‘Officers guarding the royal couple were using radios on a different channel from
those patrolling Thursday’s student riots, meaning they received no warning that
protesters were blocking their route.’
Of course, whereas the police were all over the place, the students were connected
to Twitter and knew exactly what was happening in real time.
If the police don’t know what is going on in one side of Central London from another,
it doesn’t give you much confidence in their sniffing out the terrorists in our midst
Perhaps a nudge in the direction of the Right Honourable Theresa May MP, our Home
Secretary, might result in a more intelligent use of new media by the police in future.
Ah, Media. Sorry, we’ve got another department for that.
3. Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)
The Right Honourable Jeremy Hunt MP is the Secretary of State for Culture, Media
and Sport. He was formerly Shadow Culture Secretary (2007-2010) and Shadow
Minister for Disabled People (2005 – 2007).
Perhaps someone could nudge the DCMS towards a more innovative, joined-up use
of new media to deliver the vital Government responsibilities of defence and security
Did I say ‘innovative’? Sorry, that’s another Department.
4. Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)
According to its own website the BIS (as opposed to BIT) “has an important role at
the heart of government as the ‘department for growth’.”
The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and President of the Board
of Trade is the Right Honourable Dr Vince Cable MP.
Oh dear, ‘Growth’ and Vince Cable. We’re getting quite a long way from defence,
protection and anti-terrorism aren’t we?
Do you think someone could nudge Fox to May and May to Hunt (yes, there’s Fox
Hunt in the Tory Cabinet!) and then Hunt to Cable? Is this happening? After all, as a
Liberal Democrat, Cable isn’t even in the same Party as the other three, who are
But Nick Clegg’s got the answer!
5. Alarm Clock Britain
This is from the Independent this week (12 January):
‘David Laws, who was forced to quit the Cabinet in May over his expenses claims,
has been put in charge of a drive by Nick Clegg to support the citizens of “Alarm
Clock Britain”….. Liberal Democrat strategists have alighted on the phrase to
describe the low and middle-income families that the Deputy Prime Minister views as
the backbone of the country….. It was devised at a recent brain-storming session
with senior Liberal Democrats, including Mr Laws, at the Deputy Prime Minister’s
grace-and-favour mansion at Chevening.’
No mention of BIT or Nudge or Behavioural Economics here. Do the LibDems know
Do the Conservatives know about Alarm Clock Britain?
Do any of them know what the other is doing?
Or are they, like the Police, all on a different wavelength?
I promised an upstream consumer insight and a disciplined and objective strategic
My Insight is that people in the Big Society, especially terrorists, do not live their
lives by Government Department.
Strategically, the UK Coalition Government should get its own act together before it
nudges the electorate towards looking after itself in what is called the ‘Big Society’
(although a re-branding and clearer communication of this concept should also be