Home > Podcasts > BETA Podcast: Interview with Elizabeth Hardy

BETA Podcast: Interview with Elizabeth Hardy

20 June 2019

How do we improve public services? Elizabeth Hardy has been working for many years on ways to improve the lives of Canadians, and shares her ideas on BETA’s latest podcast.

Elizabeth is a Senior Lead in the Canadian Government’s Impact and Innovation Unit, which oversees the application of behavioural science and design to public policy.

She has helped to increase the number of women entering the armed forces, encouraged more Canadians to give to charity, and increased rates of organ donation.

But to do that she’s put herself in the shoes of people using these services to understand what works and what doesn’t.

She’s recruited herself into the army, signed up to be an organ donor and stood in lines waiting to speak to a service desk.

And she’s passionate about this ‘autoethnographic’ approach to service design—in order to best understand the barriers to better service delivery.

Hear the full story on BETA’s website.

You can view each and every session from the conference online, at BETA’s website.

Disclaimer: BETA's podcasts discuss behavioural economics and insights with a range of academics, experts and practitioners. The views expressed are those of the individuals interviewed and do not necessarily reflect those of the Australian Government.

Transcript

Elaine Ung:

Hello and welcome to another episode in BETA's podcast series. BETA is the Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government. BETA's mission is to advance the wellbeing of Australians by applying behavioural insights to public policy and administration. In this podcast series we interview a whole range of behavioural economics and behavioural insights academics, practitioners and policy makers.

Hello I am at the International Convention Centre today and I'm attending the Behavioural Exchange Conference, BX 2018. I have with me Elizabeth Hardy from Canada who's kindly agreed to join me for a podcast interview. Welcome. Liz could you please give us a bit of background? Who you are and where you come from?

Elizabeth Hardy:

Absolutely. So I'm thrilled to be here. I'm from the Government of Canada and I work at the Impact and Innovation Unit. It's a small but mighty team embedded in our Privy Council Office which is equivalent to your Cabinet Office here in Australia.

Elaine Ung:

Great. And what about some of the academic background to lead you to where you are now?

Elizabeth Hardy:

Sure. So I have a varied background. From an academic perspective, social sciences and social work. And then I got into government. And about, I don't know, I think it must've been about seven years ago I read the book ‘Nudge’ and the rest is history.

Elaine Ung:

And apart from ‘Nudge’, how did you become interested in behavioural economics and how did that start to apply in your work?

Elizabeth Hardy:

So I've always been interested in human decision making but also I love problem solving. So the more challenging the problem the better. I also am a passionate public servant who believes that behavioural science can really help improve outcomes for citizens and in my mind that's really why we do what we do as public servants. Our goal should be to help improve the lives of our citizens and make things easier for them.

Elaine Ung:

Yeah absolutely. Could you share with us what you're working on right now?

Elizabeth Hardy:

Absolutely so there's a few things we’re working on that I'm quite excited about. One is in the area of diversity. So we're working to increase the number of women working in the Armed Forces, for instance. So we're using behavioural science principles to improve the recruitment process. Also the way we communicate with recruits, possible recruits, we're looking at charitable giving in Canada. So how can we encourage Canadians to give to our charitable organisations. We're also really focused on supporting our middle class and growing the middle class in Canada. So working on benefit and program uptake for low income and middle class Canadians.

Elaine Ung:

Fantastic. Could you please share with us an example of some of your work that demonstrates the potential impact of behavioural economics?

Elizabeth Hardy:

Sure. I think I'll give you an example of a project I worked on at the provincial level. So a few years ago I worked on a project to increase organ donor registration rates. At the time organ donor registration rates were around 25 percent at the provincial level despite the fact that when asked about 85 percent of Ontarians or Canadians say yes they're interested in donating. So we ran a trial where we tested a number of interventions including the consent form redesign, we used some principles of timing. And we saw 143 percent increase in donation rates. We were very pleased and I think I had my researcher run the numbers about three times just to confirm that that was right. But in fact it was. So that's being rolled out right now in the province.

Elaine Ung:

That's really incredible. How did you go about doing that trial?

Elizabeth Hardy:

Sure. So we tested a number of things as I said. But the thing that really stood out for us, we did a bit of qualitative work at the beginning. So one thing that we always start with is autoethnography, which means that we go through the process ourselves. So for my recruitment trial I was actually recruited into the Armed Forces; for the organ donation trial we go, we stand in line, we fill out the form, we go through the process and then we document our experiences and that helps inform the interventions we design. And in this case one of the barriers that stood out from that work as well as some interviews with citizens was the actual consent form itself was very complex. It had you fill out information that was unnecessary. So a huge piece of it was that form redesign. The other piece of it was that citizens felt unprepared for the answer. So they'd go up to the counter and we'd ask "Hey do you want to become an organ donor?" And they would feel kind of surprised and they'd want to think about it. So one thing we tested is what we refer to as ‘timing’, which means that we handed out the form right when they walked into the centre to give citizens or individuals a time to process that the question was coming. And I think that it had a huge impact on the result.

Elaine Ung:

That's excellent. You're actually really taking that user design approach to changing some of the policies, that's fantastic. Do you have a favourite behavioural economics concept or behavioural bias that you've come across?

Elizabeth Hardy:

I really like shaming. Certainly we joke a lot about that one. That every time we talk about it we start with "Is there a way to shame?”, "You shaming?" So no, all joking aside that one, and I think loss aversion. I've seen a lot of positive results from loss aversion. Also something I use with my five year old son.

Elaine Ung:

It's actually the next question I have. How do you use behavioural economics in your everyday life or do you BE yourself in any way?

Elizabeth Hardy:

Oh for sure. So for myself I would say definitely for exercise. So I always have this goal that every morning I'm going to go for this 5K run at 6:00 AM but of course my good intentions from the night before disappear so sometimes I'll move my alarm clock to the other side of the room. Sometimes I'll tell my friends or post on social media "excited about my 6:00 AM run." Yeah that sort of thing.

Elaine Ung:

Yeah. And that holds you accountable too. You've already pre-committed?

Elizabeth Hardy:

Exactly.

Elaine Ung:

And you've announced it. That's great. So could you share some reflections on the evolution of BE and BI in public policy and tell us what you think is the next big thing for behavioural economics?

Elizabeth Hardy:

Absolutely. So I've been in this space for about seven years now and actually earlier today at BX I spoke at a session called Second Generation Nudging and I think that there's a couple of things there. The first is that we're moving beyond the nudge trials in the sense that we're still going to always do them, and I think they help inform a lot of our work going forward, but we're starting to use behavioural science earlier on in the policy development cycle. I think that's certainly something that will hopefully really be embedded in our work going forward. The other piece I'll say is working with other jurisdictions. One of the things I'm really finding is with some of these wicked problems we're tackling as government we're really not going to be able to make any great gains unless we start working together at the state level, the city level and the federal government to help sort of really unpack the issues and the problem and then design really innovative solutions to get at that issue.

Elaine Ung:

That's so right. A lot of these problems are not actually just at one level, they are very complex and they span many different jurisdictions and so I think it is very important to take that holistic approach. So that's great. And one last question, what's next on the agenda for you?

Elizabeth Hardy:

Sure. So we recently launched a fellowship program. We are a small team of three on a good day. But recently we launched a fellowship program where we hired six behavioural scientists, three of which just started last week and they're going to be working in a variety of areas. But one is environment and climate change. And this is something that is, I think, a hot topic right now, something where behavioural science can really support. So we're excited to see what projects come out of that. In addition to that, looking at gender parity. So looking at gender in general in Canada but also how in the Government of Canada we're ensuring that we're applying the right lens to our policies and services before we roll them out to make sure that there aren't any unintended barriers.

Elaine Ung:

Great! It sounds like it'll keep you quite busy. Thank you so much for your time. I'm conscious it's the early morning hours of Canada right now. So thank you so much for taking the time out to meet with us today.

Elizabeth Hardy:

Absolutely. Thank you so much.

Elaine Ung:

Enjoy the rest of BX.

Hi again. Thanks for listening. If you want to find out more about Liz's work you can connect with her via various channels including LinkedIn. If you haven't heard our previous episodes listen to them at www.pmc.gov.au/beta. Until next time!