Behavioural Science is a rapidly expanding field and everyday new research is being developed in academia, tested and implemented by practitioners in financial organisation, development agencies, government ‘nudge’ units and more. This interview is part of a series interviewing prominent people in the field. And in today's interview the answers are provided by Alena Rogozhkina.
Alena graduated with a Master’s degree in Behavioural Science from University of Stirling in 2017. Following this, she founded her own digital wellbeing start-up - Sonas-Behavioural Science LTD - based in Scotland. Her passion for this project was to find innovative ways to measure everyday mental wellbeing to unlock people’s potential and elevate organisational performance. Alena is also currently mentoring an early stage digital wellbeing start-up as a part of the Moving Ahead Programme for female founders (Santander Bank initiative). Since 2020, Alena has gone "back to school" studying contemporary art practice at Leith School of Art. Experimenting with both scientific and creative tools to boost mental energy, Alena intends to articulate to a wider audience what limits people to have a better everyday reality.
Who or what got you into behavioural science?
I have been inspired by Paul Dolan’s work and his book Happiness by Design that I read in 2014. It has just joined all the missing pieces of the puzzle in my head together once I accidentally came across of his research. That time I have been slightly lost on my professional journey. What I’ve been searching for were effective evidence-based tools to improve workplace culture where people could unlock their true potential. Traditional HR tools just did not work in majority of situations because they were designed to help businesses to stay on track legally, rather than equip leaders with the right tools to design an authentic workplace culture where employees can be at their best. So, it was Professor’s Dolan research that showed me the light, so I enrolled for the Masters in Behavioural Science at University of Stirling (at that time under the Liam’s Delaney supervision).
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve?
I do not want to shout about my achievements too much since I’d like to think about them as collaborative results rather than a single expert success. I have been very lucky to have a bright team around me. What I would like to mention is that together we have pioneered to apply behavioural science as a part of the entrepreneurial eco system of Scotland. In 2018 I started my own project Sonas-Behavioural Science as I was one of the first female founders bringing a practical application of behavioural science to measure workplace wellbeing in Scotland. One of our products was CASPER – a digital wellbeing tool based on emotion analytics and rooted in ESM for data collection to measure employee wellbeing in real time beyond retrospective surveys. My team and I were driven by a particular challenge to engage with a quite conservative sectors such as manufacturing or construction. Although these industries are going through some positive changes in terms of mental wellbeing initiatives, the situation there was (and still is) quite challenging and terribly slow to any positive change. I do not know anyone else in that domain who have managed to implement any significant data-driven solution to get a clear picture on what’s going on with employee wellbeing. We managed to pilot our MVP just before the Covid 19 outbreak with a few companies collecting invaluable workplace wellbeing data. These insights helped to inform leaders to design more efficient wellbeing strategy to deal with the most uncertain times. Our platform CASPER was also recognised as one of the TOP-3 innovative solutions selected for the CIVTech 3.0 Challenge to discover how can we measure employee wellbeing better inside of the Scottish Government.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?
I think I know the answer - I would be an artist. Contemporary art is my greatest passion and I invest a lot of my time experimenting with fluid art and painting on various surfaces such as recycled glass objects. There is something about colour and light that helps me to project my own emotions on the surface but equally I feel that I can communicate through my art with a wider audience. I am a current student at Leith School of Art in Edinburgh studying contemporary art practice. In fact, the last year has accelerated a remarkably interesting transformation phase of my professional path. I am in the middle of linking my passion for art and scientific background together to take my current wellbeing project to the next level. So, watch the space😊 I will announce more news on this shortly.
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?
This always makes me laughed because I think it is quite common for behavioural scientists to be on track with professional BS applications but feel like they fail everything practical in personal life. Saying that I think I am quite experimental with my friends and family practicing on them different concepts such as using comparative advantage to divide household chores or mental accounting planning an event together😊
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?
I would say first – curiosity in people. The best behavioural scientists in the world who I personally aware of have something in common – it is a unique personal trait – they love observing people with no intention to judge but notice with an open mind what different people do in everyday settings. Another trait to my mind is a tendency to try new ways of doing things and experiment without fear of being disappointed by an unsuccessful experience. The irony is that a cutting-edge research is full of happy accidents, but it can only happen due to constant experimentation erasing any expectations on fixed results. My last point would be an ability to honestly self-reflect and being prepared to self-transform your own believes and habits.
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?
Really interesting question. I do not personally believe in any long-term forecasting. I reckon, some of potential tendencies might be around bringing even more interdisciplinary research together scaling behavioural science to philosophy, anthropology, biotech and even space exploration research. I can also see a potential for large applications of behavioural science in human-machine interaction to establish proper ethics around rapidly accelerated AI and machine learning technologies.
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?
I am really inspired by Ashley Whillans’ work and her research about time so would definitely be curious to hear her story. In terms of the UK based experts. I would also be happy to see a story of Christopher Boyce published. Cristoper’s story is fascinating that might be inspiring for other folks in the field to be more adventurous.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Alena!
As I said before, this interview is part of a larger series which can also be found here on the blog. Make sure you don't miss any of those, nor any of the upcoming interviews!
Keep your eye on Money on the Mind!