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Professor of Geography at Aberystwyth University

Behaviour Change in New South Wales

By Rhys Jones

As part of my short visit from Aberystwyth to chart the emergence of Behaviour Change initiatives in Australia, I spoke with representatives of the new Behavioural Insights Unit set up in New South Wales. I heard a fascinating story about the role played by the Unit in promoting notions of Behaviour Change in New South Wales and, indeed, in Australia more broadly.

In many ways, a number of the themes that arose in the discussion echoed much of what we found out in our previous Leverhulme-funded project about the emergence of Behaviour Change in the UK. It was a story of key documents (the Australian Public Services Commission’s document on Behaviour Change was viewed as crucial), visits by key individuals (David Halpern from the Behavioural Insights Team in London), the support of key individuals for Behaviour Change within New South Wales’ administration (the Premier is said to be keen), as well as seminars and master classes organised with civil servants and politicians.

So far, so familiar. What was unfamiliar, however, was the suggestion that Behaviour Change had been relatively straightforward to popularise among civil servants and politicians in New South Wales because of the sense that these selfsame civil servants and politicians had been practising a form of Behaviour Change for a number of years, albeit largely unbeknownst to them. The significance of the Behavioural Insights Unit set up in New South Wales, therefore, has been the fact that it has provided a greater sense of structure to the different kinds of intervention that were already taking place there.

Such statements raise interesting philosophical questions about whether one should consider interventions to be indicative of Behaviour Change when their proponents do not view them in such terms. In a related context, does the conscious and explicit labelling of pre-existing policies as ‘Behaviour Change’ interventions add something to them, whether in terms of style or substance?

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