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 Sam Moore.
Sam is a Senior Behavioural Scientist at Evidn and leads Australian agri-environmental portfolio of the company. Sam is experienced in the design and delivery of population-level behaviour change projects and has worked extensively within agricultural communities to create positive change. Sam was previously Project Manager of Cane Changer, one of Australia’s largest agri-environmental behaviour change projects. Sam also provides assistance to the data collection and analysis procedures for the company and has published in key agricultural and academic journals to inform the evidence-base.
Who or what got you into behavioural science?
Funnily enough, I wonder the same thing myself! I’ve been asked this question a lot and I can’t pinpoint any particular moment in time or influential person who sparked my interest in behavioural science. I’ve always been deeply fascinated with people and how / why we do the things that we do. I also love getting to know people and understand what matters to them. I guess it’s fitting that I work in this field!
That being said, coming across social psychology has definitely been a big influence on my decision to pursue a career in behavioural science. I found it fascinating how group norms, identities, and leaders can create such powerful shifts in behaviour, and these are all still tools that I use in my daily role.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve?
Most of our projects at Evidn involve embedding ourselves into communities and laying the foundation for a ‘whole of system’ approach to change. What makes me proudest when reflecting on my career so far is seeing many of the initiatives and groups that we’ve worked hard to establish, continue to thrive in the long-term after our project has ended. More broadly, I’m also incredibly proud to see the increasing proliferation of behavioural science across the globe. It’s great to see our field starting to become embedded as ‘business as usual’ for many governments and large organisations.
While the proliferation of behavioural science is pleasing, I also think we’re just starting to scratch the surface of what’s possible. I’d like to see behavioural science continue to be embedded as a more mainstream approach to solving many of the complex challenges society is currently grappling with. Many of these problems, at their core, relate to the behaviours and decisions that we make (or maybe don’t make) on a daily basis.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?
I’ve had plenty of interests throughout my studies and career, however they all relate to understanding people and the environment we live in. I initially considered pursuing Clinical Psychology when starting my studies, before the fields of Social Psychology, Business Psychology, and Organisational Psychology sparked my interest. I then landed on the field of Behavioural Science as a more holistic and multi-disciplinary approach to solving similar challenges..
That’s all a long-winded way of saying that if I wasn’t a behavioural scientist, there’s a fair chance I’d still be doing something that involves working directly with people!
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?
I use plenty of behavioural science in my personal life. Maybe I’m biased, but I think many of the skills you acquire as a behavioural scientist serve you well in so many other areas of your life.
I think behavioural science has helped me to gain a deeper understanding of why people do, or don’t do, certain things. Understanding how our behaviour is a function of our environment and the broader ‘system’ that we live in can be an important perspective to have – particularly over the past two years with the COVID-19 pandemic.
More personally, the most concrete way I apply behavioural science is by identifying and removing barriers in my personal life, to make it easier to do the things that I really want to do – such as exercising more, having more free time, or eating healthier. I’m also always open to new ideas and am constantly questioning my own assumptions and judgements in an attempt to overcome the many cognitive biases we have.
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?
Great question! How I like to think about this is that there are skills that you can train (i.e., knowledge of behavioural science), and others which are more ‘trait-based’ and stable. Beyond everything though, I think being relentlessly curious and having a genuine interest in people will serve you well.
For project work, I think your disposition and communication skills are also incredibly important. Being able to build rapport and trust in geographically isolated communities, manage difficult conversations, present, and facilitate groups are huge components of our work.
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?
It’s wonderful to see how far our field has come in the last ten years. As I mentioned earlier though, I think we’re only just starting to scratch the surface of what’s possible. When it comes to complex problems such as climate change, they’re in large part problems of human behaviour, and relate to the attitudes, behaviours, and beliefs that we make on a daily basis.
Looking forwards, I’d like to see behavioural science become a more mainstream approach to solving these problems and to work hand-in-hand with existing approaches including policy, economics, and finance. For this to be realised, I think there’s a significant opportunity to move beyond nudge-based interventions and adopt a more systematic understanding of people. Understanding how elements of the system, not just individuals, can be improved to enable behaviour change, will be the next emerging area for our field to tackle.
What advice would you give to young behavioural scientists or those looking to progress into the field?
Given how holistic and wide-ranging our field is, I imagine it can be pretty daunting for aspiring behavioural scientists! My main pieces of advice are -
Stay curious and follow your interests – I’d encourage you to read and learn as much as you can about the field. In doing so, I think it’s important not to get overwhelmed with how holistic and wide-ranging the field is. Focus on what you’re most personally interested in, and how you can potentially forge a path in this space.
Prepare to be a ‘people person’ – I think the future of behavioural science will become much more engagement heavy. Getting out of the office, connecting with real people, and embedding yourself in real communities offers powerful insights and the ability to create widespread change in communities.
The power of observational skills – Dialling up your observation and analysis skills can provide incredibly rich insights and is often the difference between strategies and recommendations which set a project up for success, or failure.
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?
I’d have to take this opportunity to nominate a few of my colleagues at Evidn. I think our co-founders, John Pickering, and Jinny Hong, would have a fascinating perspective on these questions. I’m also really interested in the intersection between AI / data science and behavioural science. I’d love to hear the perspective of someone working in this space as well!
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Sam!
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!