GCS best practice guide recognises behavioural science as critical comms discipline

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The Government Communications Service (GCS) has published an important best practice guide for professional communicators. The Principles of Behaviour Change Communications outlines the practical application of behavioural science in campaigns and communications. 

It’s an important piece of work that furthers an insight-led, behaviourally-informed approach to communications, and the impact this can have on organisational outcomes.

Under the leadership of Executive Director of Government Communication Alex Aiken, GCS has embraced behavioural science and placed it at the forefront of all work.

Embedding behavioural science in government communications

The results speak for themselves.

In 2018, Alex set the team a challenge (one of 8) – to adopt behavioural science techniques to enhance the effectiveness of campaigns. Fast forward three years and GCS now has its own Behavioural Science team that is embedding behavioural science expertise across government communications.

This latest best practice guide from GCS is yet another excellent contribution to the practice – raising standards and educating practitioners and organisational leaders in innovative communications approaches. It’s a testament that behavioural science in communications is now being recognised as mainstream.

The key takeaways from The Principles of Behaviour Change Communications include:

  • The importance of objective setting
  • Defining the problem in behavioural terms and understanding key actors
  • Mapping user journeys to identify friction, or opportunities to influence
  • Introduction to the COM-B model for a behaviour change intervention (Michie et al, 2014)
  • Identification of target behaviours
  • Developing hypothesis
  • Introduction to message framing
  • Habit formation
  • The importance of evaluation and identifying outcome measures

It also outlines the importance of being aware of behavioural spillovers and unintended consequences, and mitigating them where possible.

A behavioural science approach to communications

At Lynn PR, we live this methodology, rooted in robust management and communication science, in every piece of work that we do. Our data-driven behavioural science approach – with a strong focus on academic rigour – means our communications and campaigns undergo the same robust treatment to deliver results for our clients.

All Lynn PR campaigns start with a research and insights phase wherein we use a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods to develop a theory of change. We define problems in behavioural terms, identify target behaviours, analyse these for spillovers, audit these using COM-B and Theoretical Domains Framework (TDF) models, and assess audience decision-making via systems thinking and choice architecture reviews. 

We develop behavioural hypotheses, making recommendations for change for communications, policy and environment – all laid out in a Behavioural Diagnostic. 

Using this Diagnostic, we develop behaviourally-informed campaigns and communications. Each campaign undergoes a robust test phase where we use real time data insights to identify which interventions worked, and which didn’t. We use these insights to scale and activate our campaigns.

Behavioural science drives significant uplift in measurable outcomes

This approach has led to some incredible successes for Lynn PR clients including:

  • x4.5 improvement in engagement and increase in referral to mental health services (Free Your Mind)
  • +805% improvement in consultation increasing responses by ten-fold for a housing association (Fair Rents)
  • Pioneering behavioural science research for road safety in England and tourism in Wales

Our behaviourally informed campaigns are helping improve outcomes in societies and delivering intrinsic human value in:

  • Public health (vaccination programmes, protective behaviours, contact tracing, mental health) including improving service design and delivery
  • Internal communications by improving employee wellbeing and furthering diversity and inclusion initiatives
  • Road safety by improving takeup of key, life-saving training courses 
  • Supporting transformation programmes and skills development to equip more communicators to use data-driven, behavioural science methodologies and improve use of measurement and evaluation in communications programmes

To find out more about Lynn PR and our behavioural approach to communications, please email contact@lynnpr.co.uk 


This article was written by Shayoni Lynn, Director at Lynn PR.