Behavioural sciences

The Lab has identified that behavioural science offers new ways of approaching problems and had delivered results in other contexts.

It has been working to develop capacity and capability in behavioural science and has been developing behaviourally inspired solutions to business areas across the Northern Ireland public sector.

What is behavioural science?

In essence, this stream of work applies psychological and social science insights to public sector problems with the specific aim of changing or influencing people’s behaviour. This is a relatively young field with increasing applications across public policy problems. An important part of this work is using randomised control trials or experiments to test the effectiveness of interventions.

The Lab has been developing services using behavioural science which include the following:

  • desk-based research on comparable experiments
  • design based research on behavioural journeys and existing choice architecture
  • intervention design
  • intervention re-design
  • experiment design
  • experiment implementation and analysis

Increasing benefit uptake

Client: Department for Communities (DfC)

Project details

Every year, DfC send out 33,000 letters in direct targeting to encourage recipients to call to ensure they are receiving all the benefits and services to which they are entitled. The letter encourages recipients to make contact for a benefits entitlement check.

The Innovation Lab worked closely with DfC to review the content and layout of the letters using behavioural insight approaches. The Lab identified the following insights to inform redesign of the letter: message simplification, using social norms, framing the request, loss aversion and chunking.


The results of the trial mean that not only are more people getting what they are entitled to and improve their financial situation, but also that DfC have to make less calls to those who did not respond, saving both time and money.

The impressive increase in the response rate convinced the department to adopt the new design for all their direct targeting letters. Next year approximately 33,000 people will receive the new style letter and it will be possible to validate the impact of the whole intervention.

  Response rate government branded Response rate AdviceNI branded
Old letter 18.87% 10.32%
New letter 35.84% 16.90%


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