Looking to effectively embed applied social and behavioural science into your teams’ work? Start with these five tips.

When it comes to the debate on whether applied social and behavioural science teams should be standalone teams or whether the methods should be embedded within how teams work, I’m in favour of having both. While it is important to have a team that has expertise in applying social and behavioural science, it is equally important that there is a base understanding of key methods and concepts across departments.

I’ve reached this conclusion because when I’m brought into teams to support their capacity in applying social and behavioural science, one thing is usually sure to happen – I always end up wishing we had time to work on changing mindsets about how to understand the tasks we work on through a social and behavioural science lens.

Integrating social and behavioural science into organisations is a key ingredient. The question is, how can we effectively do this? Here are some tips that I find effective.

1. Build trust and good rapport.

One of the first things I invest time and energy on is building trust and good rapport with teams. This helps me to build a solid foundation where there is no fear of asking questions or seeking advice and feedback. I personally feel that little can be achieved without a foundation built on trust in a professional setting. Equally important is that people do not feel intimidated by your expertise so having an approachable demeanour is important. This will also make it much easier to design effective learning experiences.

2. Translate the principles of social and behavioural science to the team’s work.

Introducing social and behavioural science concepts to teams unfamiliar with the field, for example agricultural experts, requires aligning the principles to make them relevant to their work. This involves demonstrating how social and behavioural science insights can address specific challenges they face. For instance, applying the principle of social norms can help promote sustainable farming practices by highlighting how peer behaviours influence individual decisions. Similarly, the concept of behavioural incentives can be used to design reward systems that encourage the adoption of new agricultural techniques. By framing these principles within the context of their daily tasks and goals, the team can see the practical benefits and become more engaged in applying social and behavioural science to enhance their effectiveness.

3. Visualise complex concepts.

This is an obvious tip, but it is still so under-utilised. Recently, while working on a project on decision-making processes of various governments on humanitarian aid, one of the features the client found compelling was the way in which I built a visual map of how the key ingredients of the decision-making process work together and how they cascade into one another.

Visual aids are very powerful in enhancing the learning experience. Use charts, infographics, and schemas to provide structured previews of the content. For example, even simple visualisations such as flowcharts that map out the process of applying social and behavioural insights to improve crop management practices can be highly engaging. Such visual representations help team members quickly grasp how social and behavioural science can be practically applied to their work.

4. Encourage responsibility for learning.

Whenever I get the opportunity, I ask clients whether there is an ongoing task or project we can use as a model project for getting teams to practice some of the topics we are learning. This means that the client has to be willing to make a significant investment in going beyond training and investing in mentorship. Engaging teams in hands-on activities where they apply social and behavioural science principles to real-world scenarios is crucial. Going back to our example of agricultural experts, this might involve role-playing exercises where they design interventions to encourage farmers to adopt sustainable farming practices. This method of learning by doing can be more effective than passive training, as it helps solidify theoretical knowledge through practical application.

5. Provide detailed feedback.

With a foundation built on trust, the team knows you have their best interest at heart. This will make it seamless to have regular practice sessions where people are unafraid to make mistakes. This, combined with constructive detailed feedback, can build competence and confidence in using social and behavioural science methods. Set up workshops where team members develop and present intervention plans, followed by peer reviews as well as your expert reviews and feedback.

Getting teams to adopt a social and behavioural science lens into their work rather than only having standalone teams has several advantages. It ensures that insights are applied across all aspects of the organisation, enhancing overall effectiveness. By translating complex concepts into workflows, using visual aids, engaging in active learning, providing guided practice, and thorough feedback, organisations can successfully integrate social and behavioural science into their daily operations.

Do you think these tips are useful in embedding social and behavioural science into organisations? Share your thoughts and experiences here.