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 Silja Voolma.
Silja is the CEO and founder of Behavioural Design Global. She's also the applied behavioural scientist, doing research consulting, at Consilience Research. In addition to being a Research Fellow at the University of Tartu, applying behavioural insights to digital health. Ultimately, Silja is a behavioral psychologist helping people and organizations understand themselves better and lead more abundant, fulfilling and truthful existences. Let's see how she answers the 7 questions!
Who are what got you into Behavioural Science? My passion for behavioral science was sparked during my Master’s degree at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. My thesis research was on the topic of recreational drug use in young people. Learning about the challenges of changing addictive behaviours for people as young as 12 or 13 was an eye-opening and deeply thought-provoking experience for me. I learned that the best way to engage young people in a conversation about changing their drug use behaviours was through digital means. And that was my introduction to digital health! This was in 2009 and I haven’t looked back.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural Scientist? In 2016, I founded a research consulting firm, Consilience Research, focused on bringing interdisciplinary and trauma-informed behaviour change insights into digital product and service design. I’m proud of the work we’ve done helping governments, companies and individuals understand and change human behaviour towards healthier, more fulfilling and ethical choices.
We recently also launched a new professional community Behavioral Design Global to further the conversation and collaboration in interdisciplinary research and implementation methods in behavioural science.
If you weren't a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing? I would be a pediatrician. I am deeply committed to understanding and promoting healthy development and I think in any version of my life that’s what I’d be doing.
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life? I monitor and optimise my own daily habits often and do a lot of self-development and -growth work to unearth the deepest barriers to freedom from unhealthy conditioning in my own psyche. I find behavioural science incredibly helpful in this endeavour as it gives me the skills to translate insights into specific actions.
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make? Behavioural science is an incredibly broad field with multiple possibilities for application. I think the most important qualities of a behavioural scientist are being empathetic, having great communication skills and being comfortable with ambiguity. Thinking outside the box and having stellar analytical skills are also important. Behavioural science can add so much value to the world and I hope more people choose it as their professional path. For any upcoming behavioural scientists, I’d recommend being as interdisciplinary as possible, the most impact in behavioural science comes from integrating multiple streams of research and perspectives and translating this into engaging and actionable communication for people.
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)? I think behavioural science is perfectly positioned to become much more of a cohesive field of expertise, with a clear mission and well-structured interdisciplinary collaboration in the next ten years.
Samuel Salzer and I recently curated an e-book featuring thoughts from multiple behavioural science experts on how the field will develop in the future titled “Behavioral Design 2020 and Beyond”. You can read it on Sam’s Medium page or download a PDF from the Behavioral Design Global website.
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by? I would love to read an interview by Nick Hobson who is the Founder and Chief Behavioral Scientist of The Behaviorist and Clare Kennedy Purvis who is the Director of Behavioural Science at Headspace.
Thank you for these great answers Silja! I'll make sure to reach out to both Nick and Clare.
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!