By Charlie Nixon, Oglivy Consulting Behavioural Science Summer School 2018


This summer I was lucky enough to be offered a place on Ogilvy Consulting's Behavioural Science Summer School. This select group consisted of budding behavioural scientists who wanted to gain some new skills and to open the doors to experiencing real-world behavioural science application. This post discusses my time there, and what challenges we worked on for one of their pro-bono clients.

The Client:

The client is a London-based social enterprise aiming to turn loneliness into happiness. Loneliness and isolation have been a growing issue over the years, especially in the older generation, with many individuals claiming that their best source of company is there television or pet. By utilising a friendship wheel, the organisation aims to match seniors (Adults over 55 years old) who are or at risk of isolation with three different volunteers / buddies, who spend time with each other on a regular basis. The charity currently working in the London Boroughs of Islington, Haringey, Hackney, and the City of London.

The Challenge:

The group of summer schoolers were split into two different groups to tackle three different challenges. After a group consensus, a selection of people from each team splintered off to take on the third challenge. I was part of this group named System 3, and the behavioural challenge was as follows.

In order to make sure that the level of service is at the best standard and so the seniors can be comfortable with their buddies, buddies have to complete an onboarding phase which includes information about themselves to get the best match, and more importantly, a DBS certificate to confirm their credibility and safety. What the client has found however, is that 57% of potential volunteers are dropping off at the stage of completing their DBS check and handing their documents over at a Post Office for notarisation. What was more astounding, was that the drop-off occurs even when volunteers have paid £13.50 (as a donation) for the admin fees of the certificate. As such, this was the challenge;

How can we get more buddies through the onboarding stage by getting them to go to the Post Office?

 The Potential Solutions:

Without divulging too much information about the interventions, I am able to discuss the different behavioural mechanism that were considered when proposing our ideas.

  • Utilising Procrastination

First off, we are all human, and we all procrastinate, deciding to put off certain activities and decisions which appear to have high friction costs or effort tax. This has been seen in countless pieces of literature, stemming from the ideas of inertia or status-quo bias, in addition to intertemporal inconsistencies with the planner-doer model (O’Donoghue and Rabin, 1999; Samuelson and Zeckhauser, 1988; Thaler and Shefrin, 1981). Looking into this behavioural tendency, we decided that we shall look to the literature into how this bias can be overcome, and a number of articles on how the concept of salient planning and commitment can overcome procrastination.

For Instance, Milkman et al. (2011) aimed to increase the number of individuals getting their flu vaccination, a task that can be tedious and stressful for those who don’t like needles. This study utilised sending participants a message from their company about a free flu vaccination and contained one control and two treatment conditions. These were a plain ask of the key information, asking participants to write down the date they would go, and finally adding the time best for their appointment. The results showed that the introduction of an explicit commitment to writing the time and date of the time best suited to them for their flu shot increased vaccinations by 4.2% (p = 0.003) compared to the plain ask control. This simple change meant that an extra 200 people got vaccinated and should not be underestimated.

  • Don’t Get Lost in the Quicksand: The Sunk Cost Fallacy

The sunk cost fallacy can be defined as the tendency to spend more time on a decision the more investment has been put into it (time, money, effort etc.). Arkes and Blumer (1985) highlighted this fallacy in a scenario where individuals had to choose between two skiing trips they were more likely to take a less pleasurable skiing trip just because of a higher cost to them.

  • Opening Pandora’s Box: The Power of Curiosity and Reciprocity

Remember Christmas mornings where you were curious of what Santa had brought you? Everyone loves a surprise, and this is the same for adults, with Charlie Monger stating that a keen sense of curiosity is one of the main drivers of human progress. People love gifts, and has been shown through a series of experiments where waiters earned more in tips depending on how many complementary mints they gave to diners at the end of their meal (Strohmetz et al., 2002).


Conclusion and My Thoughts

After presenting these ideas, we believe that some of these behavioural interventions could easily be implemented to help increase the number of buddies and help combat loneliness and isolation.

As for my thoughts on the whole experience, it has opened my eyes to how behavioural science can be extended from the walls of academia and applied to the world of consultancy to stimulate creative thinking to help others.

Meeting the team at Ogilvy (and the wonderfully insightful man that is Rory Sutherland) was inspiring, in addition to the rest of the summer school who all had a keen passion in behavioural science equal to mine.

For anyone who is wanting to take part in next year’s school, I would highly recommend you stay on the lookout for the application process early next year



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This was originally posted on To Nudge Or Not To Nudge here