By Jordan Buck, Behavioural Strategist at Ogilvy Change


In a ‘Taste of Nudgestock’ double bill, we recently welcomed back to the stage Stevyn Colgan, another of our esteemed speakers from last year’s Nudgestock festival, to share his wisdom on the behavioural science of crime prevention – and how to use psychology to solve problems before they arise.

Before becoming a researcher and scriptwriter for the BBC TV series QI, Stevyn’s 30-year police career was centred around two fundamental questions: How do you prevent crime from happening in the first place? And, even more impressively, how do you do this on a budget of next to nothing?

His talk here at Ogilvy gave a fascinating insight into some of the ingenious solutions him and his team came up with during his tenure with the Police’s ‘Problem Solving Unit’, as well as countless other examples of how behavioural science has been applied in unique (and inexpensive!) ways to prevent crime and make our cities better, safer places for us all to live.

Although there were too many to list here (read his book for more details), a few excellent ideas included:

How organising a dog show can make residents feel safer

Stevyn discussed one fractured community in which people were often too frightened to venture outdoors; intimidating gangs of teenagers roamed the streets, and there was no sense of shared belonging.

Upon noticing that a large proportion of residents owned dogs, Stevyn and his team came up with the simple idea of a holding a local dog show in order to start re-building a community feeling. The concept was simple: when walking your dog, it suddenly feels far more socially acceptable to strike up conversations with complete strangers.

The dog show was phenomenally successful and worked wonders for breaking down the barriers between local people, encouraging residents of all ages and ethnicities to come out of their homes, talk to each other, and interact in a way they would never have done before. “Suddenly, old ladies were giving teenagers advice on how to better look after their dogs – those same teenagers that they would have hidden inside to avoid in the past.”

Although the show was by no means the only solution, it was the first, important step along the path to re-building the local community, contributing to a massive reduction in crime rates and an end to the localised gang culture.

How a few pieces of wood can prevent flyposting

Flyposting (sticking up advertising posters in illegal places, such as on private property) is often a repeated problem in certain locations; almost as soon as the offending posters are removed by the police, new ones get stuck in their place. Spending police time taking down the posters and trying to arrest the culprits is typically both expensive and ineffective!


One simple solution was to change the texture of the surfaces that the posters were being stuck to, to make it physically more difficult to stick things onto them. Rather than using plain wood to board up a window or protect a building site, simply introducing a varied texture – such as by sticking a few wooden slats over the top – led to an immediate reduction in offending rates (at almost no cost to the police!).

How to use a wizard to combat street con artists

Finally, one of Stevyn’s favourite initiatives was designed to reduce the incidence of street gambling. Con artists would set up a fake card game, challenge unsuspecting passers-by to play in order to fleece them of their cash, and feed the money back into more serious organised crimes. Because the con artists always had plenty of lookouts and many different escape routes, it was almost impossible for the police to catch them in the act.

To solve the problem, the team instead looked to the demand side of the equation – how can we discourage people from taking part in the first place? The answer they came up with was to use a magician – dressed as a wizard – to play the fake card game with members of the public, showing them how impossible it is to win when the dealer doesn’t want you to. By demonstrating to people in a safe environment that they’ll never win money playing the game, the initiative discouraged the public from playing – and, as news spread about the local ‘wizard’, more and more people learnt about the con and could therefore avoid it in future.


There's more from Stevyn as he featured on Ogilvy Change's podcast, OBehave!. Listen now here.

Keen to learn more about how behavioural science is shaping our lives? Make sure to get a ticket to Nudgestock – taking place Friday 8th June 2018 in Folkestone, where there will be plenty of speakers touching on a variety of topics. Tickets are selling fast so grab one here before they’re all gone!

To read about our other fascinating 'Taste of Nudgestock' talk, click here.