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 Ian Fannon. Ian is the Campaign Director of Claremont Communication. He has over 20 years’ experience in journalism and communications, mostly with public and not-for-profit organisations and specialising in developing impactful campaigns in the health sector. He has worked in-house in leadership roles at the MS Society and Teenage Cancer Trust, overseeing various campaigns from policy and behaviour change initiatives on welfare reform and access to treatments to major fundraising appeals, as well as leading strategic communications work for clients such as NHS England, UN World Food Programme, Mind, Diabetes UK and Versus Arthritis. Take it away Ian!
Who or what got you into behavioural science?
This question immediately triggers imposter syndrome, because I don't really consider myself to be "in" behavioural science. I am a comms person, who draws on behavioural psychology in my work - but I would never claim to be a scientist. What Claremont does is work with behavioural scientists and designers, as well as use validated models such as COM-B and EAST, to apply the science to real world communications problems. What got me into that? Well my first behaviour change campaign was when I joined the British Heart Foundation press office back in 2004 and on my first day I was thrust into the launch of the famous 'fatty cigarette' TV ad campaign which had a huge impact on smoking cessation. That got me hooked.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behaviour change communications specialist? And what do you still want to achieve?
This is a tough one, because I think some of the best work I've led has been some of our most recent - but the fruits of our labour are yet to be truly realised. For example in 2020-21 we designed and delivered a comprehensive public involvement programme for Our Future Health, which is set to become the UK's largest ever health research project. We generated a huge amount of audience insight, which helped shape the project from its earliest stages. We used behavioural insight to inform their audience segments, to craft their message framework and to provide a COM-B 'behavioural diagnosis' to inform their public engagement strategy. I feel proud of our contribution and hope we've helped build the foundations for the project's success as it attempts to recruit millions of volunteers over the coming years. Going back further, I think of projects that have had clear, measurable impacts. At the British Heart Foundation we ran a campaign urging people to call 999 if they experience chest pain symptoms. We saw a measurable shift in pain-to-call times - but what was most rewarding was hearing from individuals who saw or heard our campaign who said they dialled 999 quickly because of our ads, which undoubtedly saved their lives. I still aspire to those kind of results now in any new project I'm involved in. If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?
As I say, I'm not a scientist, but if I weren't in behaviour change comms, I'd probably either still be a journalist (which is how I began my career) or I might be helping run a small charity. I can't imagine doing any job that isn't making a social contribution in some way. How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life? I often attempt to apply behavioural science principles to bringing up my small children, but they seem resistant to most of my tricks. If I tell them that most children their age eat their vegetables, they don't seem to care at all about social norms. Though I suspect perhaps the messenger effect is important here: they don't trust my motives in delivering that message. I sometimes have more success with implementation intention. If I know I need to do a chore, rather than just adding it to an enormous scary life admin list, I try to diarise it and word it as specifically as possible, breaking big jobs into smaller steps. I'm a natural procrastinator so a job like 'decorate the dining room' just isn't ever going to get done. With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make? I've followed a really convoluted path to get where I am now, and find I can draw on a really varied range of skills and experiences to inform how I approach my work. Perhaps the most valuable experience has been work that has exposed me directly to audiences we often try to engage and influence, whether as a journalist, working in charities or doing qual research or co-design as part of my role now. This helps keep me grounded and remind me that people are complicated and don't always do what they say they do. On this basis, I'd say listening skills are arguably the most important in behaviour change communications, and being open-minded enough to leave assumptions at the door when tackling any new problem. How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)? I worry a little that the reputation of behavioural science has (unfairly) taken a hit during the pandemic, and in the near future the priority should be restoring trust among policymakers, to ensure behavioural scientists keep their seats at the right tables. As part of this, we need to find better ways of measuring impact, and resist over-claiming outcomes we cannot measure. What advice would you give to young behavioural scientists or those looking to progress into the field? I hesitate to offer advice other than to follow the opportunities that most interest you, rather than the path that you think others expect of you. Some people are best suited to specialising in a narrow field, while others (like me) thrive as generalists who can apply principles to a variety of problems. Try to get to know yourself by experimenting, and don't be afraid to close a door if it isn't working out (remember the sunk costs fallacy). Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by? Prof Peter Sasieni, Academic Director of King's College London's Cancer Prevention Trials Unit. I've been fortunate that some of Claremont's work has intertwined with his team in recent years and am full of admiration for their achievements.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Ian!
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!