Local Government

Embedding a Behavioural Insights Approach in Sunderland City Council



Sunderland City Council


We worked with the council’s public health team to design and deliver three training and workshop series for council staff and elected members, business representatives, and health professionals.


Though well-intentioned, efforts to improve employees' and citizens’ health and wellbeing are not always successful in bringing about the desired behavioural changes. The impact of health and wellbeing initiatives can significantly increase when those designing them apply a behavioural insights approach, paying attention to human biases, utilising evidence from past research, and evaluating the effectiveness of their programmes.

The Sunderland City Council (SCC) public health team commissioned The Behaviouralist to design and deliver three training series to support policymakers and businesses working on improving health and wellbeing in Sunderland. The training, delivered across a total of 11 workshop sessions, included:

  1. An introduction to behavioural insights and its application to health policy for council staff and elected members;
  2. Interactive workshops for business representatives on applying behavioural insights to improve workplace wellbeing;
  3. Training sessions for health practitioners on lessons and tips from behavioural insights to improve healthy eating and exercise uptake for children.

Workshop series 1 - Designing behaviorally-informed health policies

We delivered two workshops to council staff and elected members in which we introduced them to behavioural insights and its application to health policy. The first session focused on raising awareness about behavioural science and the need to systematically understand how individuals are affected by existing policies'; to utilise evidence;and to measure the impact of initiatives. The second session, aimed at the public health team, focused on how to practically conduct a behavioural insights project by highlighting typical implementation challenges and how to overcome them. In this session, we used a behavioural insights trial we ran with the SCC on encouraging breastfeeding for new moms as a case study of these methods.

Workshop series 2 - Nudging in the workplace

Nudging in the Workplace was a series of six three-hour interactive workshops designed for owners and managers of businesses in Sunderland. The goal of the workshops was to introduce participants to how behavioural science can be used to improve the wellbeing of their staff and how it can help promote healthy work environments. We also worked with participants to teach them how to design and implement low-cost solutions to efficiently tackle challenges in the workplace.

The workshop was split into two parts. The first part provided an introduction of the behavioural insights methodology and went through examples of real-world applications, interventions, and best practices for use of behavioural science in the workplace. In the second part, participants put the learnings into practice and were guided through activities in which they identified a challenge, designed a behavioural intervention, and set out an evaluation plan. We culminated the session by providing participants real-time feedback on their ideas.

Workshop series 3 - Applying behavioural insights to encourage healthy habits

This workshop series was offered to health practitioners and aimed at providing them with a behavioural insights toolkit to help them encourage healthy habits among children. The toolkit consisted of four key ways to improve efforts to encourage healthy eating and exercise. These included creating an enabling environment, adding a social element, making healthy choices attractive and leveraging goals and commitments. We first presented the concepts and then went through real-life examples and interactive activities which helped them understand how to apply them.

The workshop also included a section on how to identify when nudges are being used to drive unhealthy behaviours such as purchasing unhealthy processed or sugary foods. We concluded the workshop with an open discussion among participants to share techniques and tips used to encourage healthy habits in their communities.

Concluding remarks

At the end of all workshops, participants were asked to provide their feedback through a brief online form. This form allowed us to gauge the efficacy of our workshops and receive feedback about how to improve the content and delivery of the sessions. We were very pleased to learn that participants found the workshops to be informative and engaging, and that the majority left feeling confident in embedding a behavioural insights approach to their work.

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