Coalition Government? They’re all over the place!

Last September, we learned about ‘a secretive department set up in Downing Street’ call the Behavioural Insight Team (BIT) – aka David Cameron’s ‘Nudge Unit’. Here is the news in a contemporaneous article from The Guardian:

This week, The Sunday Times picked up on the story:

‘The BIT has been disseminating its ideas to government departments which are now implementing nudgy policies. Francis Maude, the minister for the Cabinet Office, says that “evidence from across the world suggests that behavioural insights can deliver considerable benefits and save money”. In the past 10 days a number of new policies have been announced that owe their genesis to these theories …..

Critics complain that “behavioural insights” are little more than snake oil gimmicks dressed up as policy wonkery. Advertising agencies have been hooking our sensibilities with clever words, they say’.

I’m not sure what that last paragraph means but let’s read on because the exciting bit is about to come. Yes, Rory Sutherland gets his say. I think Rory has been one of the best Presidents of the IPA we have ever had, but here he is described as ‘the vice-chairman of Ogilvy, a marketing agency’.

I am delighted that Rory’s proposition (if not the vital role he has performed for our business) has, at last, been recognised at Government level. Indeed:

‘Cameron is such a fan of behavioural insights that he has appointed his cabinet secretary, Gus O’Donnell, chairman of the BIT. It is part of his drive for a big society in which people are given more freedom and responsibility over their lives, with government providing nudges for guidance’.

I wonder how many creative people are in this BIT?

Surely Rory Sutherland must get the credit for nudging the government into nudging – arise, Sir Rory! – so there must be creative people in there. But who are they?

In these posts, I try to avoid discussing creative work or issues. But surely it follows there is a creative role here? Behavioural Insight – Nudge – Innovation – Creativity.

Before the creative input, how much disciplined and objective strategic planning is going on? Where is the ‘upstream’ consumer insight?

This is where I can contribute.

And my view is that before the Government starts nudging the common people, it needs to look at itself.

There are nudges and insights that could be applied to the Role of Government, and the way it is structured, that precede what the Conservatives can do to nudge the plebs into Big Society behaviour.

For example, what are the roles that are important to good government and that the common people in the Big Society cannot manage?

1. Defence

In Prime Minister’s Questions this week, David Cameron said:

“We have an enormous terrorist threat”.

What a surprise.

But, as I wrote in March 2010:

“Why is it that the responsibility of countering terrorism within Britain is the responsibility of The Home Office (i.e. the Police), but outside Britain is the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence (i.e. the Military)? …. Surely terrorism is an international problem that, like the internet, transcends national borders? …. In my experience, expecting two units within one Government Department to communicate with each other is a recipe for disaster, let alone two completely different Departments with different hierarchies and different Ministers…. I reckon this muddled management structure makes us sitting ducks.”

I also urged a more sophisticated use of new media in the war against terrorism.

Perhaps the 07/07 inquest that is currently taking place will nudge the Secretary of State for Defence, The Right Honourable Liam Fox MP, towards a more united and innovative resistance to this ‘enormous threat’.

Mind you, he isn’t responsible for Police. That’s the Home Office.

2. Home Office

As well as counter-acting terrorism and stopping drivers from speeding, on Thursday 9 December last year, one arm of the Police were on duty not controlling the student rioters when the other arm was not protecting Prince Charles and Camilla on their night out to The Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium.

As the Daily Telegraph reported on 11 December 2010:

“Officers guarding the royal couple were using radios on a different channel from those patrolling Thursday’s student riots, meaning they received no warning that protesters were blocking their route.”

Of course, whereas the police were all over the place, the students were connected to Twitter and knew exactly what was happening in real time.

If the police don’t know what is going on in one side of Central London from another, it doesn’t give you much confidence in their sniffing out the terrorists in our midst does it?

Perhaps a nudge in the direction of the Right Honourable Theresa May MP, our Home Secretary, might result in a more intelligent use of new media by the police in future.

Ah, Media. Sorry, we’ve got another department for that.

3. Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)

The Right Honourable Jeremy Hunt MP is the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. He was formerly Shadow Culture Secretary (2007-2010) and Shadow Minister for Disabled People (2005 – 2007).

Perhaps someone could nudge the DCMS towards a more innovative, joined-up use of new media to deliver the vital Government responsibilities of defence and security more effectively.

Did I say ‘innovative’? Sorry, that’s another Department.

4. Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) 

According to its own website the BIS (as opposed to BIT) “has an important role at the heart of government as the ‘department for growth’.”

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and President of the Board of Trade is the Right Honourable Dr Vince Cable MP.

Oh dear, ‘Growth’ and Vince Cable. We’re getting quite a long way from defence, protection and anti-terrorism aren’t we?

Do you think someone could nudge Fox to May and May to Hunt (I wish it was Fox to Hunt!) and then Hunt to Cable? Is this happening? After all, as a Liberal Democrat, Cable isn’t even in the same Party as the other three, who are all Conservatives.

But Nick Clegg’s got the answer!

5. Alarm Clock Britain

This is from the Independent this week (12 January): 

‘David Laws, who was forced to quit the Cabinet in May over his expenses claims, has been put in charge of a drive by Nick Clegg to support the citizens of “Alarm Clock Britain”….. Liberal Democrat strategists have alighted on the phrase to describe the low and middle-income families that the Deputy Prime Minister views as the backbone of the country….. It was devised at a recent brain-storming session with senior Liberal Democrats, including Mr Laws, at the Deputy Prime Minister’s grace-and-favour mansion at Chevening.’

No mention of BIT or Nudge or Behavioural Economics here. Do the LibDems know about them?

Do the Conservatives know about Alarm Clock Britain?

Do any of them know what the other is doing?

Or are they, like our Police, all on a different wavelength?

I promised an upstream consumer insight and a disciplined and objective strategic recommendation:

My Insight is that people in the Big Society, especially terrorists, do not live their lives by Government Department.

Strategically, the UK Coalition Government should get its own act together before it nudges the electorate towards looking after itself in what is called the ‘Big Society’ (although a re-branding and clearer communication of this concept should also be considered).

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
This entry was posted in Blog posts. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *