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How Behavioural Design can reduce human errors

‘We’re only human’ is a term associated with humans of course, but more so with accidents. But if that were our attitude we wouldn’t be able to learn much on how to prevent them in the future. And thankfully that’s not what happened after the train accident on 6th March, 1989 in Glasgow, Scotland.

That afternoon the train driver, pulled out of Bellgrove station and within half a mile, ploughed head-on into a train travelling in the opposite direction. The driver of the other train died along with another passenger. The driver who caused the accident had to be cut free from the wreckage and lost a leg in the accident.

So how and why did the accident happen?

It was the guard’s responsibility to check that all passengers were either on or off the train and that the signal on the station indicated that it was safe for the train to proceed. The guard admitted that he had not checked the signal, partly because it wasn’t easy from his position at the back of the train and he knew the driver would be able to see it clearly from the front. He rang the usual two bells to give a ready-to-start signal. But the signalman confirmed that the signal was red during the whole time. On the other hand, for the driver, the red signal would have been visible for another 13 or 14 seconds, even after pulling away, but he still didn’t notice it. In the final investigation report, the driver got the majority of the blame for the accident, with the guard cited as a contributory factor, because ultimately it is the driver’s responsibility to check that it is safe to proceed.

The accident happened because the driver had built up a simple habit. When he heard the two bells, he acknowledged it and set off without checking the signal himself.

A Behavioural Design solution was used later to prevent such accidents from happening. A reminder switch was put in the driver’s cabin that cut power to the train, when it was activated. Drivers were made to turn it on when they stopped at a station as an extra safety check. Now if they heard the two bells and tried to apply power immediately, the train wouldn’t move. They had to turn off the reminder switch, and that prompted them to check the signal first. But a system, which halts the train automatically, if the driver jumped the red signal, would be an even better Behavioural Design solution.

Source: Making Habits Breaking Habits by Jeremy Dean

 

How a teacher changed lives of school kids

Her name is Molly Howard, a teacher who taught at a school in Georgia, US, where 80% of the kids lived in poverty and only 15% of the kids went on to study in colleges. Many teachers had a defeatist attitude – some children can and some children can’t.

But Molly challenged that view. Once she joined she abolished the school’s two-track system that separated the college bound students from the vocational students. She beefed up assessments and tutorial programs. She matched students with teachers who would be their on-campus advisors. But the biggest impact came from how she graded the students – A, B, C and Not Yet. No D-F.

In her view the students had accepted a culture of failure. These students didn’t used to do their homework or turned in shoddy work. They behaved as though they were complete failures. Getting a D or F seemed to be an easy way out for not trying enough.

In her new system of ‘Not Yet’ if the students did substandard work the teachers were made to say ‘Not Yet’. The students said to themselves, “My teacher thinks I could do better.”

Molly Howard had transformed her students with a simple Behavioural Design nudge. Test scores went up. The graduation rate increased dramatically. Howard was given the U.S. Principal of the year award in 2008.

Let’s not give up on North Korea, not yet.

Was a privilege to talk at Harsh Mariwala’s Ascent + INK conclave, along with industry stalwarts like Harsh Mariwala, Chairman, Marico and Uday Kotak, Executive Vice Chairman, Kotak Mahindra Bank.

Topics included irrational behaviour of masses, doctors, air travellers, car drivers; inefficacy of campaigns like Swachh Bharat at changing behaviour; why our government and companies in India need to adopt behavioural design; public behaviour change; Bleep, People Power and how Nudge units are being implemented by governments around the world.

Part 5 of Behavioural Design interview with Hrishi K of 94.3 Radio One (last one in the series).

 

Part 4 of our Behavioural Design interview with Hrishi K of 94.3 Radio One.

 

Behavioural Design interview on Radio One 94.3 – Part 3

Moving towards Swachh Bharat (Mint)

This article written by us appeared in the editorial section of Mint on 30th September 2016

A couple of weeks back, a video made by a private organization promoting the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, featuring Kangana Ranaut and other Bollywood actors, went viral. The video depicted the picture of goddess Lakshmi disappearing from photo frames when people indulged in littering. The narrator on the video was Amitabh Bachchan, who said that the goddess of wealth lives only where there’s cleanliness. It ended with a plea by Bachchan and Ranaut to keep the country clean by not littering. Though the government didn’t issue this particular video, it has issued other, similar ad campaigns in public interest that promote the use of a public toilet instead of open defecation.

It is largely believed that ad campaigns change public behaviour by creating a change in people’s mindsets, which in turn leads people to take the desired action. But changing behaviour is not so easy. There are too many assumptions for this model of awareness leading to action.

The first assumption is that people can recall the message all the time. The second assumption is that the message is successful in motivating people to such an extent that it prompts them to act. The third assumption is that at the moment of actual behaviour, people would have the right amount of motivation, and also the ability to act in the desired way. That is a tough ask.

This is not the first time that the government has used ad campaigns to try and change public behaviour. In the recent past, campaigns like Save Fuel, Save Money have been aimed at changing driver behaviour by asking them to switch off car engines at traffic junctions to save fuel. Do you remember the campaign? If you don’t, crores of rupees in the form of advertising have been wasted. But let’s assume you are one of the few who do recall this message. Has it changed your behaviour? Do you now switch off your car’s engine at traffic signals?

Most people don’t. It’s a lot of effort. You need to turn the ignition off every time you wait at a traffic signal. And when the signal turns green, you have to turn the ignition on, listen to frantic honking because you haven’t moved immediately, change the gear from neutral to first if you are driving a manual-gear car, get frantically honked at again, put the hand-brake down, and finally get moving. Even for people who are highly cost-conscious or environmentally conscious, it’s too much effort.

That’s why campaigns are a money-draining and time-consuming way of attempting to change behaviour. In the UK, for example, in the 1970s and 1980s, the government spent millions on TV, radio and billboard ads educating people to wear seat belts. Researchers F.M. Streff and E.S. Geller estimated that by the end of the 1980s, 80-90% of British people had seen these ads eight-nine times each.

One would assume that showing people being launched head-first through their windscreens would make people respond. But it turned out that most people weren’t wearing seat belts. It was when the law changed in 1983, along with strict policing, that most people started wearing them.

Behavioural science suggests that a lot of the messaging on educating people to change behaviour seems powerful and emotional in the spur of the moment, but eventually doesn’t change behaviour because mere awareness rarely leads to action.

Changing behaviour is tough. People don’t always behave in the desired way. People should be exercising regularly, but many don’t. People shouldn’t be overeating, yet many do. The traditional way to change behaviour is to make people aware of the pros and cons of a particular act. But this method is ineffective, because most behaviour is instinctive i.e. subconscious. We aren’t always aware of the reasons for our actions. It takes a lot of time, effort and money to make someone aware of their behaviour, convince them that change is necessary and motivate them to change.

Behavioural science, on the other hand, uses subtle on-time nudges to enable the desired action. It focuses more on the ability to perform the desired action in the last mile than on motivating people. These nudges are based on a combination of behavioural economics, cognitive neuroscience and psychology. The nudges are designed to automate the desired action and for it to take place right at the moment of action.

For example, to reduce honking, we conducted an experiment in which a red button called Bleep was fitted on to the dashboard of the car. When the driver pressed the horn, the red button would begin to beep and flash. In order to switch it off, the driver needed to press the button.

The button made the driver conscious of the habit of honking by giving him immediate feedback in order to reduce indiscriminate honking. In a six-month experiment, Bleep reduced honking by 61% on average.

Similarly, a nudge was used in Copenhagen, with green footprints painted on the ground, pointing the way to the nearest garbage bin, that reduced littering by 46% by painting.

Meanwhile, to keep India clean, we first need dustbins that are easily accessible and cannot be stolen. They could be designed to include that extra bit of motivation for use—for instance, by having two sections and a question such as: “Who’s your favourite actress: Kangana or Deepika?”.

Clocky & Tocky - Alarm clocks that literally get you off your bed

Have trouble waking up in the morning? Do you hit snooze on the alarm repeated like me, only to go back to bed and wake up later to realize that you are, as usual, late?

Here are two interesting products of Behavioural Design that could be of help. Clocky and Tocky are products created by Gauri Nanda, an MIT grad. Clocky is an alarm clock with wheels. When it’s time to wake up, these alarm clocks leap off your nightstand and run away beeping to ensure you’re awake. Tocky even lets you load your own wake up message or your favourite song.

See them in action by clicking here.

How to get men to wash hands post toilet

A study by Carl P. Borchgrevink, an associate professor at Michigan State University found that only half used soap and 15 percent didn’t wash their hands at all after using the toilet. This study was done in US. Imagine the situation in countries like India! Another study found that compliance rates for hand washing in American hospitals amongst doctors and nurses are only around 40 percent, and years of awareness programs urging doctors to wash up or use disinfectant gels have had little effect.

Not surprising. Men are inherently lazy and forgetful. Washing hands with soap takes more effort than doing nothing. Leave alone the time duration required for washing hands with soap for it to be effective. And the act of peeing is so easy for men that it may not register as a way of spreading germs.

But here’s a solution that’s likely to get men to wash their hands after relieving themselves. A designer named Kaspars Jursons from Latvia, has come up with a simple and beautiful Behavioural Design called ‘Stand’ that’s a sink cum urinal. Men can relieve themselves and wash hands conveniently standing right there, save water by not requiring to flush separately, save time by not heading to the basin which in many restrooms is on the other side and save more time by not waiting in queue to use the wash basin. It also saves space. The tap is hands-free activated by sensors, so there’s no effort required there as well. A built-in soap dispenser also activated by a sensor would make the design complete.

Is it a little too close for comfort? Well we’d prefer to shake hands with men with clean hands.

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