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 Ben Caspersz.
Ben is a self-confessed ‘nudge nerd’ who admits to buying all the behaviour change books and not always managing to read them to the end. He is also the founder and managing director of Claremont, which is at the forefront of developing technologies and techniques in communication. Since 2019, Ben has advised a police force on how to reduce casual cocaine usage, helped a housing association to prevent rent arrears caused by the rollout of Universal Credit, advised the Government on making public transport more accessible to passengers with disabilities, and led a NHS campaign to promote cervical cancer screening amongst ethnic minority women. Let's see how he handles these 8 questions!
Who or what got you into behavioural science?
For many years I worked on social change campaigns – addiction, environment, unemployment, criminal justice – as a communications planner and producer. Back in the day it was very unscientific. A lot was basically information dissemination with a sprinkling of creativity. Not many people used proper audience insight or evaluated rigorously. From 2010 onwards I became part of a movement of professional communicators in the UK committed to evidence-based practice. I’m not a behavioural scientist, but the social change campaigns I produce for governments, brands and charities use behavioural science and behavioural design extensively.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behaviour change communications specialist? And what do you still want to achieve?
I’m proud of the campaigns I’ve worked on, some of which have definitely made a difference. Most recently our work with Save The Children UK to improve child literacy has been a big success, as have our cancer campaigns with the NHS. I particularly love working at scale, having a go at the really big things. We’re currently working with the UN World Food Programme, which’ll hopefully be an opportunity to take it up a level!
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?
I’d run a barbecue school, teaching and learning about the great barbecue traditions round the world. I recently bought a Kamado Joe. I’m obsessed.
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?
I have two young children and find myself showering them with nudges and insights from behavioural science to get them to eat their greens, drink water, wash their hands, turn lights off… it’s a flurry of prompts, incentives, reframing, blah blah blah. And I yell at them from time to time. That works too.
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behaviour change communications practitioner? Are there any recommendations you would make?
As practitioners applying behavioural science in real world settings, we’re required to deal with a wide range of knotty challenges, like limited budgets, tight timescales, varying risk appetites, varying levels of experience of behavioural science among clients, different working cultures. Applying the theory isn’t always easy. It requires a lot of pragmatism, willingness to deal with ambiguities and expecting the unexpected.
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?
The main thing is the field is getting bigger and bigger. More people are working in behavioural science, more money invested, more knowledge shared, more everything. This can only be a good thing.
What advice would you give to young behavioural scientists or those looking to progress into the field?
It’s a big field. There are lots of varying specialisms, which are very different in their ways of working and where they can take you. So I’d recommend taking a broad look in the first instance, not to be too narrow initially about what you’re doing and pick up a range of experience. And follow your passions – you’ll do your best work.
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?
Well, you’ve already ticked Sam Salzer off the list. He’s a fascinating guy. Next I’d have to say the “Sherlock Holmes of food” Brian Wansink. He’s one of the leaders in nudging using the physical environment. His book ’Slim by Design’ helped me to lose weight. Definitely worth a read if you’ve had an indulgent lockdown!
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Ben!
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!