UK’s Behavioral Insights Team Leaves Government, Launches Joint Venture

This article was originally published on The Psych Report before it became part of the Behavioral Scientist in 2017.

The UK’s Behavioral Insight Team will no longer be a section of the UK Cabinet Offices, the Guardian reported earlier today. Instead the Behavioral Insights Team (BIT) will form a for-profit joint venture with the UK Cabinet Offices and the innovation charity Nesta.

“Today the Behavioural Insights Team is being ‘spun out’ of government and set up as a social purpose company,” the newly launched Behavioural Insights Team website states. “We are now a world-leading consulting firm whose mission is to help organisations in the UK and overseas to apply behavioural insights in support of social purpose goals.”

The move comes as the BIT faced increasing demand for its work applying behavioral science to public policy from governments and organisations around the world. Demand that it was unable to meet under its old structure.

Moreover, as Halpern explained to the Guardian, “There is no reason for the UK taxpayer to be paying us to work for the White House.”

The move will benefit BIT and Nesta as well as the UK taxpayer–all have a one-third share in the company.

“We will continue to work for the Cabinet Office, which will be our first and principal client,” the BIT stated in their first blog post outside the government. “But we will now start to build on the growing portfolio of work that we are undertaking across the UK public, private and charitable sector and with foreign governments and international organisations.”

Nesta, who label themselves as an “innovation charity,” won a competitive bidding process to link up with the BIT. Nesta is a former UK government body set up in the late 90s to fund innovation and creativity in science, technology and the arts. In 2010, it separated from the government and now acts as a private sector charity devoted to funding ideas with a social purpose.

Although the Behavioral Insights Team initially faced skepticism as both gimmicky and big brotheresque when it was launched by David Cameron in 2010, it quickly became a sought after advisor to organizations and nations around the world, including the United States.

It was reported last summer that President Barack Obama set up a similar team, under the guidance of Cognitive Neuroscientist Maya Shankar, though the US team has yet to divulge much about its work.

The Psych Report recently interviewed David Halpern, leader of the BIT, in which he talked about the work of the BIT and What Works UK. From our interview, Nudging the UK: A Conversation with David Halpern:

“For years people regarded this as a quite edgy, quirky novelty, where we had to work quite hard to persuade government departments to think about the world in this different way. Now in the U.K. we’re in a very different position. It’s about building policy around real human beings and how real people make decisions as oppose to what an economic textbook teaches you. So our issue nowadays is actually the level of demand we get from both inside the U.K. and increasingly from around the world. So that’s a testament to the effectiveness of it.”