My experiments following Behavioural Science in Practice

31 July 2020

Applying ‘carrots’ rather than ‘sticks’ to encourage online training completion. Allison Zelkowitz, Lebanon Country Director at Save the Children, attended Behavioural Science in Practice in May 2019, the short executive programme delivered by Warwick Business School and The Behavioural Insights Team. Allison shares some insights into how her learning translated back into organisational impact.

Find a purpose

Save the Children International requires all of its employees worldwide to complete a number of online training courses on a range of topics. While these trainings are mandatory, many staff do not complete these courses unless Country Directors ‘wield sticks’ (rather than carrots). Save the Children wanted to change this approach using behavioural insights to encourage staff to complete the online training.

Start experimenting

My experiment team included four senior staff members from Save the Children Lebanon. Via one 90-minute session, the team applied the frameworks I brought back to the organisation from my experience on the Behavioural Science in Practice programme. The aim was to use our experience to focus on targeted behavioural change that could encourage training completion, and select interventions to test. The summary of these interventions were twofold - encouraging staff to make a public commitment contract to complete the training, and inviting staff to complete the training together, thus making it both ‘easy’ and social.

Intervention 1 was a public commitment trial. My colleagues drafted a large chart that had all staff members’ names on it, and a calendar of days, and then each staff member was encouraged to check the box for the date they planned to complete the training, and then sign their name once they’d completed it.

Intervention 2 was the ‘completing the training together’ intervention. Our Internal Controls Manager announced to our team that she would be coming to their office, and they could join her for one of two sessions. She would bring snacks (to make it more attractive), and she’d be right there if they had questions or encountered any language issues. So this helped make it both easier and more attractive to complete the online training.

Following the completion of our first phase, we decided to test one last behaviourally-informed method to encourage staff to complete the online training. One of the strategies that I learned during the course is the use of lotteries. Lotteries can be effective at encouraging a behaviour because people focus more on the prize, rather than the small chance of winning.

Overall, the lottery appears to have been the most effective strategy employed. In terms of staff time investment, financial costs, and boosts to completion rates. All together, the three approaches encouraged between 77% - 87% of staff in each office to complete the course.

The impact

Applying behavioural insights to encourage staff to complete the online training allowed us to double or triple the completion rates in each office, without having to apply negative pressures. In addition, the frameworks and methods I learned whilst on the Behavioural Science in Practice programme, were simple and engaging for our experiment team, who thoroughly enjoyed the process.

The next steps are to apply these concepts to the wider range of challenges facing Save the Children as an international organisation. In April 2020 I began a new role as the Director of the Center for Utilizing Behavioral Insights for Children (CUBIC), an initiative launched by Save the Children in Asia. CUBIC is the first “nudge unit” in the world to focus specifically on the most marginalized children’s rights and welfare. In this role, I’ll be promoting and utilizing many of the tools I learned during the Behavioural Science in Practice programme, particularly the EAST Framework, which is easy to understand and use, particularly for those new behavioural science.