Occasioned by several walks through parks with Robert where we came to the conclusion that we could do a better job of explaining the new Parliamentary search. Why we’ve done what we’ve done, what some of the advantages and disadvantages might be, and what we need to do to make it better. So here goes…

The problem we were trying to solve

Parliament has a web presence with a lot of search forms. There’s a web search that searches the public website. But not all of it. There’s the requisite intranet search. There’s an amazingly complicated public search form for Parliamentary material and an even more complicated version available internally. There are search-like forms for individual types of business like this one for written questions and answers and search forms for particular types of content like this one for Parliament TV.

Over the years we’ve spent time, effort and money building and tweaking our own search functionality. There’s an entire triple store (separate from data.parliament) built to index material for the purposes of search.

Past a point it becomes difficult to maintain and update the code sitting behind this assortment of search options. And no matter how much effort we put in to building our own search tools, 90% of traffic still comes from organic web search. So Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go etc. Though in fairness almost entirely Google. There was a general feeling that effort poured into rolling our own search systems for 10% of users, was misaligned to the very little effort we put into making the website friendly to external search engines for 90% of users. And maintaining multiple search options is also confusing for people who have to get used to a variety of interfaces and the feeling of never being quite sure what this particular search is searching over.

Our initial goal was to "improve the experience of searching parliament.uk", which gave us some wiggle room because at least no-one was expecting us to fix it overnight. We also wanted to step toward a unified search rather than multiple code bases supporting multiple interfaces.

What we did

Given the opportunity to start afresh with assorted varieties of Parliamentary search we decided not to roll another new search platform, but to make use of what was already out there. So for now we’re using the Microsoft Cognitive Services API which uses Bing web crawlers behind the scenes.

This is the first step in making it easier for people to find material from Parliament. We’re intending to use more than this one data source and will be adding to it incrementally.

There are assorted advantages and disadvantages to this approach. Let’s start with the disadvantages and end on a high note.

Some disadvantages of using web search as site search

  1. You’re outsourcing relevancy and ranking to what is, in effect, a black box owned by a third party and subject to change by a third party. If some type of material is deemed by the business to merit a higher ranking than some other type of material you can’t just tinker with some relevancy algorithm and see what happens. If you outsource you lose some control.
  2. You’re outsourcing keywords to the vagaries of a search engine and to the wider web. Since the arrival of PageRank, search engines tend to work by taking into account not only the words on your pages but the text of links to your pages from other pages. And though we’re not entirely sure (because it’s all a black box) it looks like they also take account of words on pages linking to your pages regardless of whether those words are in the link text or not. The problem here is Google bombs will happen. People can choose to link to your stuff with deliberately mischievous and occasionally offensive words and search engines will rank your pages for those words. Ask George W. Bush and Rick Santorum. It’s possible that our new search will return results for slightly offensive terms but if you’re spending your time typing swears into text boxes you should probably grow up, maybe?
  3. In traditional "enterprise" search you fix search by fixing search. Search engines work by "browsing" your site. So if you want to improve the findability and presentation of material you publish on the web, you have to spend time fixing your website and not tweaking your search code. This is a very different approach, which seems to confuse people.

Some advantages of using web search as site search

  1. You’re outsourcing your relevancy and ranking. Which is also a good thing. Because relevancy and ranking are hard. For an organisation like Parliament producing a variety of materials, some with long term reference value, some with much more immediate short term value, it’s particularly hard. When you roll your own search, all the relevancy signals are packed into your corpus. You can combine with usage stats which in all likelihood you’ve already bought from Google. But you’re still treating your bit of the web as a sealed box rather than part of a wider ecosystem. Using web search plugs you back into that ecosystem by taking account of much more than your documents and their usage. How the web sees them and links to them, what gets clicked on in search results, how usage varies over times of day and days of week, provides a whole new set of relevancy signals you just don’t get from mining your own material.
  2. You’re outsourcing keywords to the wider web and how your chosen search engine chooses to see the wider web. When you’re reliant on keywords contained in your own documents, you’re reliant on editorial policies that may have changed over time. So Hansard didn’t use the word Brexit until May 2016 but there’s lots of Parliamentary debate pertinent to Brexit that predates that. Because other people, outside Parliament, have linked to this material using the word Brexit, our new web based search takes this into account and returns results pertinent to Brexit that never mention the word Brexit. Using web search massively expands your corpus and massively expands your pool of relevant keywords. The price you pay is a few people typing rude words into search boxes. What you gain outweighs that.
  3. Our previous approach has been two-pronged. We’ve been doing the work to improve our own, hand-rolled search whilst also trying to play nicely with search engines (not always with great success). Combining the two means you’re optimising once. All the work you do to improve internal search also improves web search. Which might be as simple as giving a little more thought to page titles and descriptions. Or making sure the site is progressively enhanced and doesn’t fall to pieces when JavaScript disappears. Or including data in some form of schema.org markup. Again, 90% of traffic comes from external search which in the past has had 10% of the budget. Combining the two means there’s a lot less lost effort.
  4. Search engines like Google and Bing have a massive user base and a massive cache of usage data. They’ve seen every possible typo and learned how to route around. So a search for dungerous droogs compensates for wonky spellings and returns best guess reasonable results.

Fix the browse, fix the goddam browse

So we’ve partially outsourced relevancy, ranking and keywords, but only partially. For now at least, search engines still place some emphasis on site structure, link density and the wording of links. We can still exercise some control over the findability of our documents by:

  1. Creating as many routes to them from as many angles as possible (people, groups, places, times, topics etc.).
  2. Increasing link density to more relevant documents (current members above ex members, open inquiries above closed inquiries, bills currently passing through Parliament rather than those that have already passed into legislation etc.)
  3. Ensuring that link titles are as descriptive as possible.

The tree-like design of the current website doesn’t lend itself to any of this. With important documents hidden at the end of twigs, at the end of branches, at the end of trunks there’s no sense of which documents we value and want to promote. By improving the information architecture of the new website, we have a much better starting point for playing well with the wider web and with search engines.

So far we’ve made a decent stab at making every resource we think might address an information need separately addressable. So there are "pages" to answer questions like:

As we explore and build out more of the domain, other resources designed to answer other questions will appear:

  • What government bills have been presented by Ministers in this department?
  • What questions have been asked of this department?
  • What stages has this bill passed?
  • Which Members have signed this EDM?
  • Which EDMs has this Member signed?

The intention was to make subsidiary resources available for inclusion in "thing" pages. So nested beneath a person page there’s another page listing their committee memberships. And another listing their parties over time. And etc. All of these, or bits of these, can be included into the person page and swapped in and out as design responds to actual usage and changes over time. This at least is the theory.

Except in places we’ve added information to people pages without making the corresponding subsidiary resources. So a person page might list government positions, but as yet /people/:person/government-positions doesn’t exist. And where we have made subsidiary resources we haven’t made a great fist of linking down to them. So they’re invisible to users and invisible to search bots. To meet information needs we need to fix some of this.

The upshot of all this is you can’t just put time and budget into tweaking search code. Once you’ve outsourced ranking, the only way to "improve search" is to improve the website and make it friendlier to search bots. Which will have all kinds of knock on benefits for the other users who happen to be people.

This goes against more traditional (or at least computer age traditional) approaches to search, where you end up building ever more complicated search forms to cope with ever more complicated queries but neglect the work necessary to make the underlying documents discoverable via linking and browsing. This feels particularly true in the worlds of libraries and archives which seem to squeeze whole websites into a single form, a result listing and a "record".

As Karen Coyle says in Catalogs and Context:

First, the indexes of the database system are not visible to the user. This is the opposite of the card catalog where the entry points were what the user saw and navigated through. Those entry points, at their best, served as a knowledge organisation system that gave the user a context for the headings. Those headings suggest topics to users once the user finds a starting point in the catalog.

Most, if not all, online catalogs do not present the catalog as a linear, alphabetically ordered list of headings. Database management technology encourages the use of searching rather than linear browsing. Even if one searches in headings as a left-anchored string of characters a search results in a retrieved set of matching entries, not a point in an alphabetical list. There is no way to navigate to nearby entries. The bibliographic data is therefore not provided either in the context or the order of the catalog. After a search on "cat breeds" the user sees a screen-full of bibliographic records but lacking in context because most default displays do not show the user the headings or text that caused the item to be retrieved.

Search engines can’t search

The emphasis on search interfaces at the expense of browse has other knock on effects for the wider web. If all of your "website" is packed into a single search form, it’s impossible for search bots to fill in that form and get to your documents. Because, and this is possibly pointing out the obvious, search engines can’t search. They send crawler bots out across the web. The bots "read" a page and follow links, "read" a page and follow links. Onwards and forever. If they meet any means of navigation that’s not a plain and simple hypertext link they’re baffled. If they meet a search form they’re stumped. A page like Search Parliamentary Material is barren soil for search bots. All the money you’ve spent on building impossibly intricate forms not only makes it more difficult for non-expert users but also makes it impossible for search bots to find your stuff.

Anyway, our approach to search will evolve over time but the basic approach should stay similar. Instead of sinking effort into building dazzlingly complex search forms we intend to spend the time making incremental improvements to the website we’re searching over. To pin out Parliamentary material like a butterfly and provide as many approach routes and as many aggregations as possible.

Original source – Smethurst

At mySociety we believe in an open, inclusive web and such we try to build web apps that are accessible in the broadest sense. So while we do care deeply about things like WAI and the Equality Act this post isn’t about that — this is about making a site that works if you have a weak connection or an ageing device. I’m talking about performance.

Graph showing total transfer data for mobile webpages in last year.Now while it isn’t a great metric to track, the fact that the average size of a web page is now over three megabytes (and pages served for mobile devices reaching an average of 2.9mb!) demonstrates that this is an age of bloat that assumes good broadband or 4G connectivity and we don’t think that’s right.

As an example here are some numbers about the FixMyStreet site as it displays on mobile after some recent improvements.

To load a working and styled front page on your phone takes around 9KB of HTML/inlined CSS/inlined images (that isn’t a typo – nine kilobytes). How do we pull that off? Well, the site logo and menu are both inlined so we don’t have to wait for them to load, as is the CSS needed to show the top part of the front page. 5KB of JavaScript is loaded (which amongst other things enables the geolocation) and in the background an additional massive 14 kilobytes of CSS (the main mobile stylesheet) and the remaining 20 kilobytes of images (the example report photos and footer links) are being pulled in. The page also uses prefetch to start fetching the remaining JavaScript while the user is entering a postcode or address to actually get started on FMS.

On a desktop there’s a little bit more to add to the mix (more like 66KB of images, 19KB of CSS, plus a webfont taking 77KB) but it’s still lightning quick.

The team haven’t reinvented the wheel to achieve this – they’ve just been ruthless and absolutely focused on only using the minimum amount of code to meet the user need. When the FixMyStreet site is deployed, the JavaScript and CSS is automatically minimised, and at that point we run ‘penthouse‘ to work out the critical CSS to be inlined on the front page. And whilst our main JavaScript does use jQuery, we dropped it from the front page to save yet more up-front time (jQuery is far larger alone than our current front page).

If you are interested in more details of how this was achieved, here’s a post Matthew prepared earlier on many of the same techniques, which he used on his own project traintimes.org.uk.

There are of course still improvements to be made – I imagine many front page viewers of FixMyStreet never need or want to scroll down as far as the images in the footer, so ideally we wouldn’t load them unless they do. Due to Windows Lumia users, which we support for a specific client use case, we’re using Appcache for offline support, but adding some form of more modern service worker would also be nice. And most of this work is for the front page (though it helped other pages too); our main JavaScript could be split up more than it is. It’s a continual process, but here is a good place to pause.

Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

Original source – mySociety

Hi, I’m Julie Maybury, a user researcher at DWP Digital, soon to be based in our new Manchester hub. I’ve been working in this role for nearly two years now.

Before that I’ve had what I think the experts call a ‘portfolio career’ – which means that I’ve moved from teaching history, through information management to becoming a user researcher.

Julie Maybury

Julie Maybury

I find that many of my colleagues in the user research team have similar varied backgrounds and I think this diversity is part of what makes the team so strong and respected in the organisation.

I started my user research career many years ago in Graduate Prospects, then I moved to the BBC before coming to work at DWP. Throughout this period so many people have been user research role models to me that I could end up writing a book and thanking everyone right down to the cat, in a truly Oscar-style performance! So, with this in mind I’ve chosen three people who have defined me as a user researcher…

Some things never go out of fashion

Jakob Nielsen

Jakob Nielsen

I was recently told that it was somewhat passé to admire Jakob Nielsen – but having never been a follower of fashion I continue in my adoration and avidly read the articles from the Nielsen Norman Group on my phone as I travel home on the train (its amazing what you can learn in 15 minutes). However, he’s not only my role model because of the knowledge he imparts but because he and his team are always willing to question their fundamental assumptions – have a look at the Nielson Norman Group articles.

Great female role models who inspire

Jane Murison

Jane Murison

I first saw Jane Murison speaking at a Ladies that UX meeting in Manchester. There she stood with a pint in her hand telling us about the biggest mistakes she’d made – not something that I’ve heard many people in Jane’s position (Head of UX&D for Knowledge and Learning, Children’s, Design Research and UXA at BBC) do. However, what I really remember her talking about was the most difficult thing she’d ever done; returning to work after her second child. So, when I was later offered a job at the BBC I was able to contact her to chat about my fears of managing in the workplace as a mum. Now I work at DWP there are many great female role models who continue to inspire me – see Fivi’s great blogpost on the importance of female role models in the digital space. These female role models give me the confidence I need to challenge long-held assumptions, and know that I will be listened to.

New boy on the block

Jesper Kjeldskov

Jesper Kjeldskov

I’ll bet if this photo came up in a pub quiz no one would guess who this was – even the user researchers! He’s a relatively new role-model for me. His name is Jesper Kjeldskov and he’s made me question whether or not mobile design research should be done in the field or in the lab. He suggests that rather than concentrate solely on ‘snapshot’ testing of products in the lab, it’s important to take a more long-term approach that allows us to fully understand the complexities around the context in which mobile devices are used. If you want to find out more have a look at his paper Was it Worth the Hassle? Ten Years of Mobile HCI Research Discussions on Lab and Field Evaluations.

My role models remind me that it doesn’t matter how much I know and how long I’ve been researching, working as a user researcher requires me to challenge my assumptions – and this is part of what makes the job so stimulating.

DWP Digital are currently recruiting technology specialists. If you’re interested in looking into the opportunities available, visit our DWP Digital Careers website and have a look at our LinkedIn page. You can also find out more about what’s happening in DWP Digital by subscribing to this blog and following us on Twitter @DWPDigital.


Original source – DWP Digital

As the Digital Engagement team in DWP Digital, we’re used to highlighting how our communities of practice are coming together to collaborate in order to work more effectively.

But Digital Engagement is a community of its own, so it was time for us to practice what we preach by getting colleagues together for a day of learning, sharing and collaboration which we called Digital Engagement Live.

A mix of practical tips and community collaboration

Around 90 people from across DWP Digital have aligned to the Digital Engagement community. This means that their role or part of their role involves some element of communications, so Digital Engagement Live was a chance for people across the community to pick up practical communications tips while building a sense of community.

Delegates at the Digital Engagement community event

Delegates at the Digital Engagement community event

We asked the community what they wanted to learn about at the event and the response was overwhelmingly in favour of learning about the six topics of key messages, blogging, photography, the new DWP intranet, designing events and writing and delivering presentations.

So we structured the day around each of these topics, running multiple short, sharp, interactive sessions to allow attendees to get to as many as possible.

Jackie Bryan and Pat Pybus lead the session on key messages at Digital Engagement Live

Jackie Bryan and Pat Pybus lead the session on key messages at Digital Engagement Live

I ran sessions on how to get started with blogging, as well as writing and delivering presentations. Joanne Rewcastle and Claire Metcalfe shared their experience of designing events, while Ben Lister ran a lively session with simple tips on improving photography. Jackie Bryan and Pat Pybus talked about focusing on key messages and Rob Jennings and David Vilain-Shields updated delegates on the internal engagement possibilities of the new DWP intranet.

Ben Lister (left) leads the photography session at Digital Engagement Live

Ben Lister (left) leads the photography session at Digital Engagement Live

A learning experience for everyone

We designed a series of takeaways for people to keep after each session each containing key points related to each topic.

One of the practical takeaways for members of the community

One of the practical takeaways for members of the community

We had a really enjoyable day collaborating to bring the community together and sharing our learning. For some of the team it was their first time in the spotlight talking about their work, so although it was great to build capability with the wider community, it was a learning experience for us too.

The feedback from the community was positive. After the event one delegate commented: “I loved the format and the top tips cards. The blogging session has given me more confidence to get started.”

Another attendee said: “The photography session has really inspired me to practise and use apps to edit my photos. The whole day was a reminder for me about ‘telling the story’ across everything we do.”

Post-It note comments from delegates on the day

Post-It note comments from delegates on the day

What next?

We’re already thinking about how to build on the momentum of the day by doing further events and perhaps running similar sessions for other areas of DWP Digital outside of the Digital Engagement community as a way to further develop capability. But overall the day was perhaps best summed up by this comment from a delegate:

“It’s the people who make it. The day was just right for our first get-together, paving the way for the type of community I hope we become.”



Original source – DWP Digital

This is beautiful. 

A dying patient asks to see the sea a final time and an ambulance driver takes a small detour.

Anyone who has lost a loved one can feel this.

Anyone who is human can see this as pure gold. Not as a piece of comms but as a gesture to make a dying wish complete.

What makes this that bit more special is that it moved from being an anecdote at the water cooler to a perfectly weighted piece of communications that works beautifully. It works because it is not contrived and not staged.


It reminds me, funnily enough, of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. They were determined to shed their post-Hillsborough disaster bunker mentality by a new approach. It was simply ‘do the right thing’.

As the post says, sometimes you don’t need drugs to do a good job just empathy.

Be more human.

Original source – The Dan Slee Blog » LOCAL SOCIAL: Is it time for a Local localgovcamp?


Doncaster Council have been pulling up trees just recently. Creative, witty and using social media beautifully. A thread about a dumped speedboat was one of an array of good content. Here’s the back story.

by Liam Smith 

Phew…you write a few tweets about a dumped speedboat, and the next thing you know it’s being talked about on national radio.

Last week, many of you will have seen the tweets from @MyDoncaster that caused such a SPLASH (sorry), and ended up with a discussion on BBC Radio 5 Live as well asfantastic coverage on the Daily Mail online. Needless to say, the reaction has massively exceeded the expectations I had while writing them.

I am so pleased by the reception the tweets have had. The thread is the latest in a new series I have trialled called #TuesdayTales – telling stories about everyday council business in a fun and friendly way. Beyond the brilliant impact this will hopefully have for Doncaster Council’s reputation nationally, it is a massive victory in the seemingly never-ending battle to convince people that local government comms people should be able to take risks and have fun.


It is a great example that with good ideas and a supportive, experimental culture, you can achieve results that go beyond anything you’d anticipated. Before this week, I would have sounded mad trying to convince colleagues that a GIF of Duran Duran would lead to me being interviewed on 5 Live about fly-tipping, but this is what’s happened!

As Dan has pointed out in his very complimentary blog, using GIFS won’t work for everything – I like to think that our recent success has been about more than one gimmick or technique. During my few years at the council, we have increasingly pushed boundaries, experimented and extended our comfort zone inch by inch. 


I’ve learned so many lessons from the last week, probably more than would be interesting to read. In Doncaster, we’re all looking forward to experimenting more in the future with this experience under our belt.

Liam Smith is communications officer for Doncaster Council.

Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

UnAwards17 Your guide to the big day.jpg

Well after a three-month build up the #UnAwards17 is almost here. Here’s your guide to the big day.

by Darren Caveney

I genuinely don’t think there has been a more important time to salute, recognise and celebrate the work of communicators across our industry. Some of you are working under pretty tough conditions. Some of you are adapting to smaller resources and increased demand. And others are just delivering damned fine work.

The UnAwards is my way of giving a little bit back to an industry which has been very good to me. I take huge pride and pleasure in being able to take a decent chunk of time out each year away for the day the day consultancy work to organise the UnAwards and to help fly a flag – in my own little way – for the communications community.

The big day

If you have managed to secure a ticket to the #UnAwards17, well done – you’re in for a treat.

The event is sold out. The 141 tickets have been in huge demand and I could have sold double that. Should we get a larger venue next time? Maybe, but then if we’re not careful the UnAwards would become the very thing it set out not to be. As my Dad used to say – they don’t make diamonds the size of house bricks.

Win or draw you’re in for a great day

The UnAwards is my favourite work day of the year. It’s quite unlike any other industry event I’ve been to.

Not winning…

Of course if you’re shortlisted but don’t win you’ll be disappointed.

With 414 entries and 70 on the shortlist it’s stating the obvious in saying that not everyone can win.

If you’ve been to a traditional awards event, paid handsomely for it, and left empty-handed it can feel like a massive anti-climax. I know, I have experienced that.

The UnAwards is different.

The day is designed so that win or not you can genuinely enjoy a fun event and a unique opportunity to network with industry colleagues new and old. That in itself is reason to be there.

Twitter will be buzzing

If you can’t be at the UnAwards17 follow it on Twitter using the #UnAwards17 hashtag.

Announcing the winners and snaps of the big day

We’ll be posting the winners names to the UnAwards17 website after the event.

We also have the fab Nigel Bishop taking snaps and filming the event and we’ll get these online as soon as possible.

Timings, ceremony, film and food

The venue for the UnAwards17 is the very cool Everyman Cinema up on the third floor of Birmingham’s Mailbox, B1 1 RF

If you’re coming along aim to be at the venue at 9.30am for registration, a mug of fresh coffee and a croissant. The #UnAwards17 ceremony begins at 10.00am.

After the ceremony we’re watching a brilliant film and one which captures the theme for the #UnAwards17 – being brave, doing things differently, swimming against the tide.

For those of you badgering me for the title or a clue, my lips are sealed – only three people in the world know what it is. You’ll find out 30 seconds before you watch it. But it’s a good one, trust me.

After the film you’ll tuck into hearty bowl of veggie chilli and be done by 3pm.

And the dress code is…

Whatever you fancy. Literally. This is NOT black tie, as you’ll have guessed J But if you want to come in your fancy clobber then go for it. Albert Freeman and I will, as always, be donning our deep blue velvet jackets for their annual airing.

Saying thanks

Thanks so much for your support again this year, it means a lot.

Special thanks too to the official UnAwards17 partner, Granicus UK, and our official sponsors the Local Government Association, Alive With Ideas, the NUJ PRCC, SocialSignIn, Social Simulator, the Council Advertising Network and Perago Wales. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – there would be no UnAwards without you.

I look forward to seeing lots of you on Friday 1 December


Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and organiser of the UnAwards17

Image by Tullio Saba

Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

Employment is perhaps one of the areas that can benefit the most from the application of behavioural insights and robust evaluation. From both the supply and demand side of the labour market, small changes can have big effects. Small percentage increase to employment figures can mean substantial wellbeing improvements to citizens and communities, and large savings for governments.

Since the opening of BIT Australian office two years ago, we have been working closely with the Australian Department of Employment to help build its internal capabilities in the application of behavioural insights and RCTs. Since then, we worked together on more than 10 projects across the whole spectrum of employment services. Some of these successful projects include:

  • Time taken to claim financial incentives by companies falls by 35% using online forms. Partnering with a job service provider in Sydney, we ran a cluster RCT to increase the uptake of financial incentives for companies to hire disadvantaged job seekers. We learnt that simplifying forms for employers and changing the framing of the incentives, to avoid negative signalling about the qualities of the job seekers, led to higher uptake and substantial reduction in red tape, such as time taken to claim the incentives. If the intervention was rolled out across all sites of the provider we partnered with, more than 1,500 additional agreements, and relative job placements, could have been signed per year. Findings from this trial helped inform nation-wide changes to the program.
  • Young jobseekers nearly twice as likely to respond to a government survey if there is the prospect of a follow-up call. A trial aimed at increasing survey participation showed that notification of a follow up call from the Department significantly increased response rates. Different one-line changes to the standard survey recruitment letter to young and Indigenous job seekers were tested. We found out that notifying recipients that the Department will call them if they did not respond on time nearly doubled participation rates from 15% to 29%, and more than doubled response rates from Indigenous job seekers (from 8% to 17%).

  • Market design meets behavioural economics. We have been conducting research to strengthen the Australian job service market. This project aims to increase job placements through greater collaboration among job service providers without affecting the performance-based competitive nature of the market. This research includes a framed field experiment, in collaboration with Prof. Leibbrandt from Monash University, to test redesigned incentives to foster collaboration. Improving matching mechanisms is crucial in this type of market and this understanding has been successfully applied to markets such as kidney donations.

Other projects include: provide online job search assistance to job seekers; motivate job coaches via self-monitoring performance tools; and easier registration processes for job seekers to the Department job search website.

These projects altogether demonstrate how a better understanding of behaviour of all stakeholders – job seekers, job service providers, employers, and government agencies – can help inform successful trials. The Applied and Behavioural Economics Section (ABES) at the Department of Employment is now one of the leading expert teams in Australia in the application of BI and RCTs, and is at the forefront of testing innovative solutions to improve employment outcomes for all Australians.

If you are interested to know more about the work the Department is doing, please contact behavioural.economics@employment.gov.au

If you want to know more about the work BIT has been doing in Australia in Employment, Productivity, and Economic Growth, please contact guglielmo.briscese@bi.team.

Original source – Behavioural Insights Team

The recent spotlight on sexual harassment in the workplace has led employers from Hollywood to Westminster to think about how they treat women. This, alongside the introduction of the new requirement for employers to report their Gender Pay Gap, means it is a good time to ask the question: what do we know about what works for creating more gender equal workplaces?

Changing behaviours to reduce discrimination and bias is tricky. Many of the things that organisations consider ‘best practice’ either don’t work or, at worst, backfire.

In their recent HBR article, Professors Frank Dobbin (Harvard) and Alexandra Kalev (Tel Aviv) show that diversity programmes such as mandatory diversity training and grievance processes are actually associated with a reduction in minority representation in management.

Testing the effectiveness of a perspective taking exercise on line managers

With conventional approaches to diversity brought into question, we partnered with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to identify and test a new, easy to implement, scalable intervention. The results were published by EHRC recently.

Our focus was on line managers, often identified as the key to employee engagement. In her book ‘What Works: Gender Equality by Design’, Professor Iris Bohnet (Harvard) identifies ‘perspective taking’ – focusing on what other people might be thinking or feeling – as a promising avenue for firms. This is backed by lab research showing that perspective taking can improve communication, reduce the tendency for stereotyping and prejudice, and increase empathy. While much of this work has looked mostly at ethnic diversity, we believe that this method could be used as effectively for gender. We wanted to build on this research and test perspective taking in a real world setting.

In a trial with a large police force, we tested a 15-minute online perspective taking exercise (including a planning exercise to put their ideas into action) that asked line managers – both male and female – to take a few minutes to imagine what a pregnant colleague might be thinking or feeling. We included 3,796 line managers who were either asked to complete the online exercise as well as a series of outcome measures some weeks later (in the intervention group) or just the outcome measures (in the control group). A total of 1257 line managers completed this process across the two groups.

The results were surprising.

We found that the line managers who had participated in the exercise were rated no better by their female staff six weeks later than line managers who had not received the intervention. Indeed, we found that when asked to respond to hypothetical line management situations, the line managers in the treatment group provided answers that were slightly worse than those of their peers who had not received the intervention. These findings were similar regardless of the line managers’ gender.


These results are interesting because they show how difficult it can be to shift behaviours that are associated with gender stereotypes and norms. The result may be due to a problem specific to our intervention: perspective taking does not always equal perspective ‘getting’. In other words, even when we try to adopt another person’s perspective, we can fail if we do not actually understand how they think and feel. Other practical factors that could have led to the result are a lack of concrete tools for managers to change their behaviour, as well as a masculine workplace culture in the organisation where we trialled the intervention.

The negative effect can be also due to other factors which explain why diversity and unconscious bias interventions – especially when delivered online – have an inconsistent track record. These include stereotype activation (the intervention activates rather than eliminates stereotypes), moral licensing (people can feel entitled to engage in a negative behaviour towards a minority group after having done something positive) or defensiveness (triggered if people feel accused or threatened).

The future of diversity interventions

The main lesson from our trial is the need to continue rigorously testing which interventions work and which do not, including any unintended effects they may have. Testing will also help identify whether backfiring effects are more common in certain contexts (such as male and highly hierarchical workforces). Together, this will help companies know how they should be spending their diversity budgets to get the best results.

We will be working with the Government Equalities Office to understand how organisations can reduce their gender pay gap and increase the number of women in leadership positions.  If you’re an employer interested in testing changes for example to your promotion or pay and reward process, get in touch: tiina.likki@bi.team

Original source – Behavioural Insights Team

30 days of human comms: #14 Sefton Council’s message on a national subject

Look, I know I’ve been shouting about video for some time now.

But when I see a video as quietly determined as this one from Sefton Council my heart sings.

It’s a good approach. Women are recorded saying a short message and then are edited so the argument comes from all and from one at the same time.

It is short, it is recognisably a Sefton Council communication and the mono and music make it.

What’s great about it from an organisation’s perspective is that they have the accents of Sefton. Their voice is identifiable to people. They will be recognisable to people who work in the organisation too. They’ll pass them in the corridor.

Disclaimer: I helped deliver an in-house workshop at Sefton Council on how to shoot video. But this was all their idea. They took the basic skills and have done great things with them.

Original source – The Dan Slee Blog » LOCAL SOCIAL: Is it time for a Local localgovcamp?