Behavioural insights: resources and best practice

A range of techniques and resources to explain how behavioural insights can be done in your council and with your population.

The LGA is looking to build an evidence base of what works that councils can apply to their own services locally. The council case studies below will be added to frequently.

We would love to hear from you about your behavioural insight work and examples. Please contact us at [email protected]

Basic behavioural insights techniques

Effective communications checklist 
by the Centre for Applied Behavioural Science

Principles of behavioural science can improve an organisation’s communications approach and impact. Use this checklist to assess how well your current communications incorporate practices based on strong evidence, and apply these lessons to help get your message across.

The intervention ladder
An easy way to understand what is meant by behavioural insights is to consider the Nuffield Council on Bioethic’s ladder of intervention.

The intervention ladder explains the type of action which the council is taking in order to change behaviour - interventions range between doing nothing to eliminating choice.

Which step on the ladder does your behavioural insights project align to?

Behaviour Change Wheel: from behavioural diagnosis to intervention design

The Behaviour Change Wheel (BCW) was developed from 19 frameworks of behaviour change identified in a systematic literature review. It consists of three layers.

The hub identifies the sources of the behaviour that could prove fruitful targets for intervention. It uses the COM-B ('capability', 'opportunity', 'motivation' and 'behaviour') model. This model recognises that behaviour is part of an interacting system involving all these components. Interventions need to change one or more of them in such a way as to put the system into a new configuration and minimise the risk of it reverting. Surrounding the hub is a layer of nine intervention functions to choose from based on the particular COM-B analysis one has undertaken. The outer layer, the rim of the wheel, identifies seven policy categories that can support the delivery of these intervention functions. Find out more about the BCW.

Response: A behavioural insights checklist for designing effective communications

The response checklist is an interactive playbook that uses behavioural insights to help staff write more effective communications. It was developed by a team of behavioural science practitioners working in local government as a quick, easy and practical way of upskilling workforces to apply behavioural science with minimum fuss and maximum impact.

Examples from councils

Children, young people and families

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, Behaviour Change across the system of support: Suffolk County Council
The 2015 Care Act and 2014 Children and Families Act gave young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities more rights to support and for longer. Whilst being a much needed and well received pieces of progressive legislation, they presented severe problems in a system primarily driven by resource limitations. 

Improvements for fostering enquiries and approvals
North East Lincolnshire Council used behavioural insights to increase the number of individuals pursuing a career in foster care.

Applying behavioural insights to improve early speech and language in Greater Manchester
They identified ways to support young children’s language and communication skills.

Council tax

Increasing council tax collection rates in Lambeth
The council increased the amount of council tax collected by 8 per cent by using social norming and clear information.

Redesigning council tax registration
Dacorum Borough Council used behavioural insights to encouragefurther council tax registration online.

Council tax collection
Medway Council used behavioural insights to increase council tax collection rates.

Converting taxpayers to direct debit
Medway Council used behavioural insights to increase the number of council tax payers signed up to direct debit.

Council tax reminder letter
Salford City Council simplified their council tax reminder letter

Skills and employment

Improving complex consent processes
Greater Manchester Combined Authority used behavioural insights to improve the client consent process for its Working Well employment support programme.

Economic growth

Using behavioural insights to encourage exporting
Greater Manchester identified how to promote exporting among regional businesses

Environment and waste

Islington Council - Tackling gum litter in known hotspots
In January 2017 and from September 2019, Islington Council have partnered with social enterprise Behaviour Change to pilot innovative new signage, funded by Mars Wrigley, to help tackle the issue of littered gum in known hotspots such as shopping centres, train stations and transport hubs.

Improving Hampshire’s recycling using behavioural insights
Hampshire County Council has adopted a targeted approach to improving recycling behaviours. Aiming to wake people up from their recycling habits, a combination of digital and offline tactics were delivered across three pilots, including a pledge tool, bin wraps and volunteer outreach. Digital click-through rates reached six per cent, and the majority surveyed reported changing recycling behaviours as a result of what they had seen. Additionally, contamination fell by four per cent in one pilot.

Rother District Council – using behavioural insights to reduce demand
Increasing the take-up of payment by annual direct debit for the garden waste collection to reduce processing and chasing costs, specifically in relation to cheques.

Reducing cigarette butt litter
How do we keep our streets clean and inspire people to do the right thing with their cigarette waste? Southend-on-Sea Borough Council found the answer by applying ‘nudge theory’.

Applying behavioural insights to improve food recycling in Wigan
Bin hangers, behaviourally informed leaflets and stickers and reminder emails were employed as nudge tactics to increase food waste recycling. The target rounds recycled 0.59 tonnes more food waste than the control, a 4.6% increase in weight of food waste recycled.

Housing and homelessness

Nudging down rent arrears
Collaborative Change, Capita and 10 social housing providers across the UK worked together to explore how behavioural insights could maximise income collection and reduce rent arrears.

Recovering Housing Benefit overpayments
The London Borough of Croydon used behavioural insights to increasethe number of tenants repaying overpaid Housing Benefit as well as the overall amount repaid.

Reducing homelessness applications
The London Borough of Croydon designed a behavioural solution to help encourage the uptake of alternative pathways to finding accommodation.

Empowering familiesat the risk of homelessness to look for a new home
Ealing Council used behavioural insights to empower families likely to become homeless to look for a new home themselves.

Letter writing

Dacorum Borough Councilhave beentraining their officers in letter writing - as small changes in how a council words and presents letters can make a big difference.

Download the training slides

Election case study: Encouraging response to the annual electoral registration canvas
Pembrokeshire County Council increased their percentage of residents registered to vote by 7 per cent.


Ringo cashless parking campaign
Reigate and Banstead Borough Council set out to see if changing people’s parking habits could help contribute to the council’s ambitious financial targets.

Encouraging channel shift among Blue Badge holders
Essex County Council used behavioural insights toimprove the take-up of online Blue Badge renewals.

Public health

Behaviours during the COVID-19 pandemic

Essex County Council: Evaluating supportive digital communities during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenge to local government. In this rapidly changing situation, Essex County Council had to mobilize quickly to inform residents on guidance, prevent the spread of infection and misinformation and assist vulnerable residents. The Communities team at Essex County Council set up Essex Coronavirus Action Support Group (ECAS) alongside the Essex Public Health team, and in partnership with community Leaders.

Tackling COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and encouraging uptake (pdf)

This top tips guide from the Behavioural Insights Team provides some guidance for local authorities when tackling vaccine misinformation and encouraging uptake.

Advisory services to London Digital Mental Wellbeing Service "Good Thinking"
The London Mental Digital Wellbeing Service enables Londoners to assess their own mental health, get information about how to look after their own wellbeing, access support, and connect with others - including mental health professionals.

Hounslow Healthy Choices Made Easy Secondary School Trial
PHE Behavioural Insights worked with London Borough of Hounslow to conduct a randomised control trial investigating the effect of a healthy food environment checklist designed using behavioural insights on the healthy and unhealthy food purchases made by secondary school students.

Encouraginghealthier lifestyles and reducingchildhood obesity
Three London boroughs (Haringey, Hackney and Tower Hamlets) used behavioural insights to address growing levels of childhood obesity.

Reducing sugar consumption in schools
A pilot study in Brighton and Hove City Council, focused on developing an intervention to reduce sugar consumption in schools through personalised ‘sugar swap’ messages (e.g. messages suggesting swapping a food item for a different item with lower sugar content).

Improving appropriate urgent GP cancer referrals
Increased GP cancer referrals using social norms

Bowel cancer screening uptake
Increased willingness to get tested for bowel cancer by 8-10 per cent using anticipated regret (online experiment)

Cervical and breast cancer screening uptake
Tried to increase the uptake of cancer screening by redesigning the invitation letter for cervical cancer (online experiment) and breast cancer (field experiment)

Exercise referral programme
Recommendations for ways to increase uptake and complete exercise referral programmes

Integrating neighbourhood team
Encouraging joint working between specialists in Integrated Neighbourhood Teams in Manchester and Greater Manchester

Flu immunisation
Developing proposals for ways to increase uptake of flu immunisations by two to four year olds

Active Herts
Active Herts is a research led and independently evaluated project which uses evidence-based behaviour change techniques to support inactive adults to increase their physical activity levels. Active Herts has been co-designed by the Herts Sports Partnership, University of Hertfordshire, University of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Public Health. Independent evaluation has been undertaken by the University of East Anglia.   

Reducing anti-social behaviour
Reducing anti-social behaviour
The Royal Borough of Greenwichused behavioural insights to on the streets of Woolwich following the London riots of 2011.
Revenue and benefits
Using behavioural insights to reduce processing costs
Rother District Council wished to increase the take-up of payment by annual direct debit for the garden waste collection in order to reduce processing and chasing costs.

Improving a revenue and benefits service
Tewkesbury Borough Council used behavioural insights to improve the provision of its revenue and benefits service.

Public health examples

This LGA publication for councillors and officers explains how behavioural change interventions can help local authorities fulfil their public health responsibilities.