Using behavioural science to support communications campaigns in North Yorkshire

North Yorkshire County Council worked on the LGA Behavioural Insights Programme to apply behavioural science to their communications campaigns during the coronavirus crisis.


Using behavioural science to support communications campaigns in North Yorkshire during the coronavirus crisis

North Yorkshire County Council worked with the Behavioural Insights Team to apply behavioural science to their communications campaigns during the coronavirus crisis.

The project sought to achieve two key outcomes:

  1. Support the wellbeing of NYCC staff as they adjust to working from home.
  2. Mobilise residents of North Yorkshire to support their local community.

BIT developed a set of 57 messages for NYCC to embed into their campaigns. The messages apply a wide range of behavioural science techniques, as well as insights from the wellbeing and psychosocial literatures.

The challenge

In line with government guidance to curb the transmission of Covid-19, staff at NYCC began working from home in March 2020. Although some flexible working arrangements for staff were in place before lockdown, the move to remote working represented a major shift in how council staff operate and interact with one another. NYCC wanted to use behavioural science to support wellbeing of staff as they adjust to this change, with a particular focus on parents who may be balancing work with increased caring duties.

The general public also has a vital role to play in limiting the spread of coronavirus and helping those in need. Therefore, NYCC also sought to use behavioural science to encourage and sustain the community response to the coronavirus crisis in North Yorkshire.

The solution

BIT used a range of behavioural science techniques to develop a set of 57 messages in line with the two aims set out by NYCC. 

Aim 1: Support the wellbeing of NYCC staff as they adjust to working from home.

The messages worked by:

  • Supporting healthy thinking patterns to help staff overcome the challenges that working from home during these difficult times brings.
  • Building community through storytelling, i.e. sharing advice and experiences from NYCC staff to foster a sense of belonging.
  • Encouraging positive behaviours to improve staff wellbeing.
  • Supporting parents as they balance childcare with working from home.
  • Easing the transition back into the office: providing guidance and reassurance for staff, and encouraging behaviours which will limit the spread of coronavirus within the workplace.

Aim 2: Mobilise residents of North Yorkshire to support their local community.

The messages aimed to mobilise North Yorkshire residents by:

  • Appealing to people’s sense of altruism, using behavioural science to motivate people to help others in their community
  • Making it easy to make a difference by suggesting rules-of-thumb that might help residents overcome any practical obstacles to helping others
  • Providing support and encouragement to existing volunteers so they stay engaged.

The impact (including cost savings/income generated if applicable)

Below, we set out the outcomes that the messages are intended to impact.

Aim 1: Support the wellbeing of NYCC staff as they adjust to working from home.

  • The intended short-term outcomes of the messages relate to behaviour changes among staff. The messages aim to cause staff to engage more in behaviours that support their wellbeing, for example doing mindfulness exercises, reaching out to colleagues, and availing of workplace provisions such as flexible working.
  • In the long-term, we anticipate that staff satisfaction and wellbeing will improve.

To inform the evaluation of the Staff Wellbeing strand used data collected via the annual North Yorkshire Pulse Survey.

This survey is issued on an annual basis to staff, this allows us to compare responses to previous years. However, in 2020 a number of new questions were added in response to specific Covid related issues, so not all questions had a previous figure to compare to.

To the statement, ‘I know where to access health and wellbeing resources that might support me (#askSAL)’ 92 per cent of NYCC staff agreed. This has not featured on previous surveys, however, the positive response rate to this statement was the highest on the 2020 survey.

To the statement, ‘I have adapted well to different working arrangements’ 83 per cent of NYCC staff agreed.

To the statement, ‘I am able to strike a balance between work and home life’ 67 per cent of NYCC staff agreed, this is down 4 per cent on the previous year.

To the statement, ‘I would recommend the council as a great place to work’ 79 per cent of NYCC staff agreed, this is up by 13 per cent on the previous year.

The overall positive response rate in 2020 was 84 per cent. This was up by 13 per cent on the previous year.

Aim 2: Mobilise residents of North Yorkshire to support their local community.

  • The intended short-term outcomes are that recipients are more likely to do actions that support others around them, either by formally signing up as a volunteer via the NYCC website, or informally by performing ‘invisible acts of kindness’ within their community. The messages also aim to improve retention rates within NYCC’s volunteer workforce.
  • it is difficult to say what the longer-term outcomes of these messages may be; greater prevalence of prosocial behaviours could lead to increases in wellbeing and perhaps better social cohesion.

In the North Yorkshire Views Survey, respondents were asked how many times they have checked on a neighbour or done tasks such as shopping during lockdown to assess the level of informal volunteering. 50 per cent of respondents reporting having helped in the past 7 days, with 17 per cent helping three or more times. The most common type of help was social contact (74 per cent), doing shopping (47 per cent), other (24 per cent), collecting a prescription (20 per cent) and looking after a pet (7 per cent). Other ways of helping included moving wheelie bins / recycling boxes, helping tidy up and receiving parcels. Respondents also felt that communities were supportive of each other during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown. The majority of respondents (68 per cent) felt that people were doing more to help others, that other local community members would support them (75 per cent) if they needed help and that people in their neighbourhood have pulled together (69 per cent).

57 per cent of respondents had taken part in either formal volunteering during lockdown or informal volunteering (in the previous week). A further 3 per cent had volunteered but their help was not needed.

In North Yorkshire in 2018, 42 per cent of respondents took part in formal volunteering and 45 per cent took part in informal volunteering.

Nationally in 2019/20, 23 per cent of respondents took part in formal volunteering and 28 per cent took part in informal volunteering at least once a month and at least once in the last year.

In addition to this, 604 people responded to a questionnaire on volunteering that was promoted on social media as part of volunteers’ week campaign (which included the BI messages) and kept open for 3 months.

This found that:

73 per cent had informally helped with shopping or other essentials since the first lockdown and a further 16 per cent had offered to help but had not been needed. The most common type of help was help with shopping (86 per cent of those who helped), befriending (59 per cent) and collecting a prescription (36 per cent).

Those responding to the survey felt that people in their neighbourhood have pulled together during the Covid-19 pandemic (92 per cent definitely agree / tend to agree).

How is the new approach being sustained?

The project generated a useful resource in terms of the message bank and there are plans for the nudge messages to be used in other campaigns planned for the end of the year and beyond, particularly during the period of the current second lockdown.

An important part of this project was the learning and capacity building within NYCC to apply the BI approach across other areas of service. There are already plans to translate this learning in campaigns currently being planned for Fostering, School Readiness and Libraries.

To support this BIT will develop an online learning module ‘An Introduction to Behavioural Insights’ which will be available for all NYCC staff to access via the ‘Learning Zone’ NYCC’s training and learning portal.

Lessons learned

  • The importance of anticipating any data governance barriers and plan to avoid any obstacles. (we deliberately chose to move forward with the message bank as it had no GDPR barriers and we knew we had to work at speed).
  • The importance of communicating effectively with stakeholders and senior leadership, to ensure everyone understands the project and keeping them informed of progress. Getting everyone on board with the project is crucial and the best way to do this is through communication and linking the BI work to the wider work of the council.
  • It is important to trust your provider, but not be afraid to challenge. One of the successful aspects of this project was the positive relationship between NYCC and BIT. BIT are experts in behavioural insights work and have a wealth of knowledge and expertise they bring to each project. Sometimes on the surface the ‘nudges’ can look very simple (they actually are) however it’s really important to understand and acknowledge the underpinning behavioural science that sits behind them. This doesn’t mean that you cannot challenge or raise any issues, in order to maximise the impact of this project we had a clear idea of what our expectations were in term of output. BIT took on board the suggestions and feedback resulting in the quality of output we were aiming for and overall success of the project.

Contact

Fionnuala O’Reilly, fionnuala.oreilly@bi.team
Ruth Little, Ruth.Little@northyorks.gov.uk