What is Behaviour Science? 

Behaviour science is a broad term covering a range of disciplines including psychology, anthropology, neuroscience and behavioural economics.  Behavioural science is focused on understanding how people react and respond to different interventions, environments and a range of stimuli. Understanding how psychology influences behaviour and vice versa can help organisations implement sustained behavioural change through well thought through policy interventions.

Behavioural Science has a strong track record of success in public services.  Initially created as a small team during David Cameron’s government, what was known as the ‘Nudge’ Unit focused on developing and implementing small interventions to deliver significant change – with a financial impact too.  Changes in public policy include increasing pension auto enrollment participation, increased numbers of pupils accepted from unrepresented school in top universities and increases in the number of people paying tax on time.

Thanks to the work of this team, the interest in Behaviour Science has increased.  We have curated resources on how it is being specifically used to inform the current response to Covid-19, but also other applications to help you think through how you can use it in your own organisations beyond Covid-19.

Understanding why we panic and ignore advice

Inevitably, in these unprecedented times, we can expect that some people will panic.  Sadly we have seen disappointing scenes of panic buying and this has only served to highlight the importance of supporting our vulnerable people.  Panic is as deadly a killer as this dreadful virus has proven to be and it will only increase the burden on our organisations.

Behavioural science can often be counter-intuitive.  As an example, one way of reducing panic buying is not to show empty shelves in a supermarket but rather full shelves.

There are some useful articles that can help us understand what is happening.



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Disclaimer: PPMA is a membership association for public service HR & OD professionals. We do not attempt to provide scientific analysis or interpretation.  Our aim with these pages is to provide the most comprehensive view of available and relevant Co-vid 19 resources for our community. We will keep these materials as up to date as resources permit.

Behaviour science and Covid-19

Hard science and behaviour science is making a direct contribution to the Government’s Covid-19 response.  The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), is a key committee advising government.  SAGE is co-chaired by Sir Patrick Vallance, Chief Scientific Officer and Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer.

A number of committees are contributing to SAGE as follows:

Membership of the committees varies depending on need and the changing circumstances of the Covid-19 strategy.

Behavioural Science is a key strand of the input to SAGE and resulted in the 4 point strategy to Contain, Delay, Research and Mitigate Covid-19.  The potential impact of behaviour science on an epidemic of Covid-19 – including the idea of flattening the curve – can be read here.

Covid specific resources

This series of podcasts has been developed by the Behavioural Science and Public Health Network.

Using behavioural science to create a Coronavirus campaign

Hertfordshire County Council has created a Hertfordshire United against Coronavirus campaign.  Using Behavioural Science the campaign intends to inspire people to:

  • look out for others in their community
  • motivate residents who can to volunteer their time to help
  • support those who may be in need and/or feeling isolated.

The emphasis is on:

  • sharing messages of reassurance
  • reminding people to use trusted sources for information
  • encouraging a shared humanitarian response to the virus.

You can access the full range of materials, including posters, social media posts, handwashing videos etc here.

Broader behavioural science resources

If you would like to join our WhatsApp group PPMA Behavioural Insights, please tell us here.

Public Health Materials

In this section, you will find a wide range of resources about the work our Public Health colleagues are doing on Co-vid 19 and how it is relevant to HR & OD professionals.  



PPMA Community Updates

This section provides contains information about the key issues that you are all dealing with to respond to Co-vid 19.  It covers issues such as remote working, redeployment, supporting our leaders and managers and so on.

You can also find examples of great work being done by PPMA members and colleagues across public services.



Useful links

There is a wealth of material available on Coronavirus Co-vid 19.  We’ve picked out the best for you.



Behavioural Science

We have been hearing alot about the role of behaviour science in the Governments response to Co-vid 19.  You can find out much more about the science here and examples that you can use in your organisations.



Being well, staying well

Keeping well ourselves and supporting others in these unprecedented times is going to be critical. 

You can find a wide range of resources here to help and support you.



Myth Busters

What’s real and what’s fantasy?

Working out what’s real and what isn’t can be difficult at the best of times.  But in this pandemic, sharing the wrong information can literally risk lives.  We’ve pulled together the best of the myth busters information available and we will keep this updated.