Evaluation of the development of a behaviour change unit and its contribution to local government. Location undisclosed.

Evaluation Completed January 2023

What does the research mean for Local Authorities?

The Behavioural Change Unit is one of a handful of units to attempt to embed behavioural insights within local government in England. In line with the Public Health England document “Improving people’s health: applying behavioural and social sciences to improve population health and wellbeing in England, this evaluation will focus on the extent to which behavioural science is mainstreamed, understood, and appliedThis evaluation will add to the case that has been made about the benefits of a behaviour change approach in decision making by investigating: i) how best to integrate behaviour science across local government and ii) what is its potential scope across service areas.  

What does the evaluation research mean for the Public?

The evaluation aims to understand the internal processes of the Behaviour Change Unit and illuminate whether it is perceived to be “adoptable”. It will add to the case that has been made about the benefits of a behaviour change approach in decision making. It does not focus on causal relationships relating to outcomes nor the impact on citizens. 


How are the public involved in the evaluation?

The PHIRST South Bank PPIE Co-Invesitagor attended two of the co-production workshops and was involved in discussions during the develpment of the protocol. In collaboration with the Local Authority, the evaluation has taken the decision to adopt an engagement strategy through the “end-user” perspective, where the employees of six (6) HCC Directorates are considered the end user. The evaluation will establish a workforce panel comprising of 5 members that will collaborate with the project team to refine the design of work package 3.

Lay summary of research

What is this evaluation about?

A specialist unit providing training, advice and consultancy on behaviour change has been set up in a council. The aim of this evaluation is to find out what makes it easier or more difficult to set up and integrate such a unit and what are its expected benefits for service planning and programme design.

What do we already know?

Policy making and service design in central government has been shown to be improved by a broader understanding of issues and the ways people act. The application of behaviour change techniques can directly bring about changes in target behaviours such as waste management or the payment of fines and charges.

What don’t we know?

The adoption of behaviour change techniques and principles is relatively new across government and new to local government in England. We do not know how best to establish a specialist resource on behaviour change and what are its expected benefits. We do not know about the confidence and competence of staff in developing behaviour change interventions.

Why is an evaluation necessary?

People’s behaviour informs many of the issues to which councils need to respond and provide services. This evaluation will help councils know what they need to do to set up a specialist resource for behaviour change. Understanding which aspects of the context (directorate or project area) that account for the success of such a unit and the relative lack of success in a different context will help local councils to direct resources. Changing the approaches to service planning and design across a range of issues needs people to accept new ideas and work together to put it into practice. Understanding how this is best achieved will help to identify the skills and attributes needed to adopt behaviour change and improve the public’s health.

How will it be carried out?

The behaviour change unit (BCU) has been set up for 18 months. The evaluation will take place at an early stage to find out how well it has been integrated into the council. The story of the setting up of the BCU will be told through interviews and documents. A survey will identify the motivation, knowledge and skills about behaviour change of those staff involved in commissioning, design or delivery of services or programmes. We will investigate two project areas to find out about their context and readiness to adopt the techniques and principles of behaviour change.

What will we do with the results?

The findings will describe and explain how successful is this innovation. It will explain what makes it easier or more difficult for local government to adopt behaviour change techniques and principles. The results will be circulated in academic papers, briefing papers for local government and through presentations.

Local Authority / Partner(s)


PHIRST South Bank Research Team

Prof Jane Wills (PI), Miss Kanar Ahmed, Dr Eleni Vangeli, Dr Megan Watkins 

Contact: phirst@lsbu.ac.uk