Flipping defaults

 In Thoughts

It’s great to see evidence of people taking on board suggestions of how using behavioural insights can be used to improve efficiency in small and simple ways. Apart from anything else it’s wonderful to know that someone is listening now and again!

choice architecture can encourage behaviour change
So, instead of the usual email from the school Parents’ Association asking me if I would be prepared to have an estate agent’s board in my front garden promoting their sponsorship of the summer fair, I received an ever so slightly different message this time.

Every other year I’ve been asked whether I would be willing to help and requesting that I complete a consent form and to provide my (unchanged) contact details. This time I received an email that said simply; in previous year’s you’ve said you were happy to help, we’re assuming that you’d be happy to do so again, unless you tell us otherwise. If you don’t want to have a board this year or your contact details have changed, please tell us. Otherwise we will keep you on our list.

The choice I have in completely unchanged – I can choose to help the school by agreeing to have a board or I can choose not to have one – but the default has been flipped. Instead of having to opt in and have the hassle of having to fill in a form (again), I will be included unless I choose to opt out.

Flipping the defaults is a very simple and effective way to increase response rates. We’ve seen how changing the workplace pension defaults from opt-in to opt-out significantly increased the numbers of people saving for retirement. The change to pensions, introduced in 2012, increased the proportion of eligible workers saving in pensions from 55% to 70% in just two years.

While changing the defaults for school fundraising initiatives are unlikely to have quite the same impact as the nation’s post-retirement finances, it is a simple way to reduce the burden of administration (for the school and participating parents) and to increase participation rates.

Of course not all defaults can be flipped so easily. We can’t opt people in to everything. But there are plenty of instances where we can think about the potential to change the choice architecture to encourage certain behaviours.

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