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Q&A | Alex Gyani

Thursday 19, Oct 2017

Dr Alex Gyani is a Principal Advisor at the Behavioural Insights Team in Sydney. He will be speaking at the PRIA conference on the 9th November. Alex sat down with us recently to talk about the Bevavioural Insights Team, behavioural science and the customer journey.

Q. Are you able to tell me how behavioural insights informs the customer journey?

A. The fact that you are referring to the “customer journey” shows that the PR profession probably has a good intuitive understanding of some behavioural insights. Essentially, the aim of the Behavioural Insights Team, which was set up in the UK government seven years ago, was to look at some key lessons from the behavioural sciences and see how we can apply them to public policy.  We use the term behavioural sciences as we want to be as inclusive as we can be when it comes to different disciplines and fields. Generally, we look to psychology, behavioural economics (the field pioneered by Richard Thaler, who won the Nobel Prize last week), sociology and anthropology.

Prior to the team being set up it was often the case that public servants would design policy in a way that took a very one-dimensional view of people. Namely that people act in the way they are described in economics textboxes. However, human beings are complex creatures. We thought that if you want to create good public policy you need to design for that complexity, rather than try to design around it.


Q. And how does that impact the preparation for a communication strategy?

A. There are actually a few important steps to the application of behavioural insights, whether you are applying them to a communications strategy or a large-scale policy reform.

The first step is to work out specifically what you want to achieve. This can be hard work, but having a clear target behaviour means that you are freed to just focus on that.

The next step is to explore how people actually interact with your draft communication strategy, policy or service. In most cases you can only do this with a small group of people in a particular setting. This is much more common in marketing than in public policy, but always useful.

At this point and only really at this point are you ready to start pulling together your solutions and your strategy. As I mentioned earlier, we will look to the academic literature to get an understanding of what might work. As this can be a big job, we have tried to distill some key insights into a framework, the EAST framework.  If you want to change behaviour, you should make it Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely.

Finally, we make sure that we test out our ideas, using robust and rigorous trials, known as Randomised Controlled Trials. This allows to us to sure that what we do works. I am confident that without this focus on proper evaluation the field of BI wouldn’t be where it is today.


Q. What is the difference between the audience journey as opposed to the customer journey?

To be honest, I am afraid that the audience journey isn’t really a term that I think I’ve heard in public policy. However, I am sure that in the PR world this is an important and meaningful distinction and without understanding that difference there is a risk that we end up talking past each other. This is something that we see very frequently in policy making. Quite often we assume that people have the same understanding and the same view points as we do. This means that we end up writing communications or designing policies for ourselves, rather than others.

There is even a term in sociology that describes this process. It is “déformation professionnelle “ or “trained incapacity”. Essentially, it means that people often look at things from the point of view of their own profession and forget broader perspectives.  You can often see this in communications from government.

One particular example that springs to mind was when we worked with an organisation who were looking at some of the fines they were sending to people. The first thing that would jump out at you when you looked at the letter was: “Enforcement order”.  We asked the organisation what enforcement order meant, as it wasn’t a term that we had heard. They responded that it was an unpaid fine. Unpaid fine became the new header.

In retrospect, it is easy to for us see that “unpaid fine” was the more obvious way to describe the letter; but, to that organisation, which dealt with hundreds or thousands of unpaid fines, an enforcement order was a much more meaningful label. The term “unpaid fine” was actually little less descriptive for them. As the point of the letter was to get the individual who was caught speeding, littering or running a red light to pay up, having a title that made sense to the recipient was more important.

Your question also means that I have lots of learn from the PRIA conference and am excited to be there!