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Looking forward – behavioural insights to consider

The fast moving nature of the pandemic makes it hard to anticipate what specific challenges councils may face going forward. In this section we have identified a number of approaches and principles from behavioural science which we feel could be useful for councils to consider in the future.

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Approaches for your work

Avoid the planning fallacy

Be forward facing and be realistic about your time and resource. Easier said than done, even when you are aware of it. Humans have an innate optimism bias about estimating the time and resource it takes to complete a task or a project. We normally under-estimate how long something will take. In a situation in which context or policy can change fast you need to be able to be re-active and not get tied to a project which becomes obsolete. It is not possible to address every challenge or apply behavioural principles to every situation. Understanding that and applying that - being realistic about the work you are undertaking is important. On a practical level blocking time in your and your colleagues diaries to reflect back and plan has been useful for councils.

Test - Learn - Adapt

Where possible testing, learning and adapting what you learn going forward is vital. Evaluating your work at an appropriate level to translate learnings to future work is important. Understanding what might be feasible with time and resource constraints is reviewed here 

Reciprocity - share your work and learnings

Local councils are delivering innovative and impactful work on vaccine uptake. Share it and learn from others.

Behavioural Insights

We have identified the following principles which are either fundamental to vaccine uptake - or could provide sources of inspiration in developing materials going forward.

  • Messenger effect - for vaccine uptake who delivers the message is key and messengers can change. For some groups, e.g. young people this may not be politicians or authority figures but peers or influencers. Ensuring the source of information is trusted within vaccine hesitant groups is of prime importance. In some marginalised groups, who are especially distrusting of authority, the council or authority figures may actually decrease engagement. Recognising this and removing the prominence of the council could provide some traction to vaccine resistant groups. ;
  • Leveraging defaults and scarcity could be useful in more hesitant groups. In a recently published largescale trial multiple text messages were used to test the likelihood of take up of the flu jab. The most successful were those which were simple and clear and assumed that receiving the jab was the default position. ‘We saved you a place’ or ‘We reserved you a spot’ were the most promising. Scarcity could also be used to show the limited availability of the vaccine and that you should act now to take up your spot. 
  • Incentives - careful consideration should be given to using incentives and should be calibrated to not have a negative spillover on a behaviour. By not framing or getting the incentive level correct it could be possible to disincentivise individuals. Research shows that paying for blood donations does not increase blood donations and may erode the moral argument of donation being for the public good. That being said incentives have been shown to be effective with socially disadvantaged populations for take-up campaigns in other contexts (for example physical activity). Any incentives would need to be carefully targeted and only be considered towards the end of a campaign. Could this be a non-financial reward, but one which is interchangeable and has value for the target group (for example, access to a space or resource e.g. gym or potentially something linked with online gaming or something of similar value to individuals).
  • Public endorsements and social norms - especially using social media or social networking sites - could we create a set of digital assets or endorsements which could be publicly shared on social media or online platforms which help show support or a commitment to the vaccine ‘I’ve had it’ image or emoji or screen filter. Dynamic social norms are also a very powerful tool and are perfectly captured by the high numbers of people accepting and taking up the vaccine. This can be used and promoted by councils at a local level.
  • Removing barriers to uptake - accessing groups who are not registered with GPs and who are not registered for council tax or on the electoral register could be a challenge. Bringing vaccine centres or hubs into communities could provide a useful way of removing the barriers of registering with healthcare providers [e.g. traveller communities, homeless groups] or operating a ‘no questions asked approach’ could equally be of use.
  • Pre-bunking misinformation – Both innovative but also requiring careful consideration. A common way to reduce individuals’ susceptibility to COVID-19 misinformation is debunking the false claims. However, recent research has shown that debunking might not be always effective, as it might amplify the false information. An alternative approach to reducing people’s susceptibility to misinformation is pre-bunking. This approach is based in informing individuals about common misinformation techniques and tactics used by perpetrators who spread COVID-19 misinformation. A practical example of this is the Go Viral! game. Councils can circulate this resource among its communities to foster their resilience against emerging types of misinformation.
  • Leveraging insights from other sectors. For example, in charitable fundraising when using visible fundraising targets it has been shown that levels of fundraising vary depending on how close you are to your target. For example money is raised quicker when donation totals are close to their target and the end is in sight. It could be interesting to try and leverage these insights at a local or community level to drive vaccine take up. For example, if a faith groups membership was shown publicly to be 90 per cent vaccinated - with a target of 100 per cent vaccinated this could leverage social norms and also principles around meeting targets.