Behavioural Insights

Stimulating peoples' desire to make good choices by understanding their motivators
Elizabeth Hardy

Most people want to make healthier life decisions, be financially responsible and contribute to a sustainable society and environment. However, most of us also have lives full of obstructions to making the decisions that uphold these goals. Behavioural insights (BI) uses techniques from behavioural economics, psychology and social marketing to assist people make these beneficial choices. 

A fundamental finding from BI research is that small changes (which often cost nothing) to the way in which information and choices are offered can have substantial beneficial impacts on important decisions. Without force or constraining choices with regulation, BI aims to help people make better decisions themselves. Behavioural insights maximizes freedom of choice while minimizing enforcement.


  • Behavioural insights have been demonstrated to increase the follow through of intended behaviours leading to healthier, happier, and more sustainable outcomes.
  • As a best practice, wherever possible, these principles should be effectively tested through use of randomized controlled trials (RCTs).
  • RCTs ensure that we properly test solutions before implementing more broadly.


  • Complete program review 
  • Create new policies, programs, or services (however results could lead to program changes)

Policy Opportunity

  • Improved policy and service delivery outcomes for Canadians
  • Provides a positive alternative to traditional regulation
  • Promotes evidence-based implementation with measurable results


It is encouraged that program areas run randomized controlled trials to test behavioural insights principles before implementation.

Criteria required to run a randomized controlled trial:

  • Clear behaviour or action that you would like to encourage
  • Adequate sample size
  • Data – ability to track behaviour
  • Existing touch point – correspondence, form, web page, etc.

Government of Canada

There are several labs across the Government of Canada who are applying behavioural insights principles to improve outcomes. This list includes: 

  • the Impact and Innovation Unit (Privy Council Office), 
  • the Accelerated Business Solutions Lab (Canada Revenue Agency), and 
  • the Change Lab (Employment and Social Development Canada). 

In addition, the Government of Canada launched a Behavioural Economics Community of Practice.

Best in Class

  • The Behavioural Insights Team (UK) started as the world’s first government institution dedicated to the application of behavioural sciences in 2010. It is now jointly owned by the UK Government; Nesta; and its employees. It aims to redesign public services drawing on ideas from the behavioural science literature. Ideas are tested and trialed before they are scaled up. David Halpern is the Chief Executive and Board Director, and has led the team since the beginning.
  • The New South Wales Behavioural Insights Team (AU) was established in 2012 by the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet with the help of the UK’s senior nudger Rory Gallagher. Trials have demonstrated good results. For instance, measures were applied to nudge injured employees back to work sooner. The trial group was back to full capacity 27% faster than the control group, and its participants were three times as likely to have completed their claims within 30 days.
  • The White House Social and Behavioural Sciences Team (US) is a cross-agency group of applied behavioural scientists that translate findings from behavioural science into improvements in Federal programs and policies.
  • Opower is a US company that partners with utility companies to deliver personalized home energy reports, all based off the insight that people are more inclined to take action on an issue when they think other people are doing better than they are. People’s energy consumption changes for the better after receiving these reports, and the effects appear to be long-lasting.
  • SaveUp is the first free US-wide rewards program that uses principles of behavioural economics, gamification and prizes to encourage Americans to make positive financial changes. Users securely register financial accounts on SaveUp, earn credits by saving money, paying off debt, and tracking financial progress, and then use credits to play for prizes. Survey data show reported increased savings and debt payments, as well as increased engagement with personal finances.
  • Other notable experts include Dan Ariely, Cass Sunstein, and Richard Thaler.
  • BETA Guide to developing behavioural interventions for randomised controlled trials