Governments are increasingly using behavioural sciences to deliver more targeted and effective policies and programmes.

A new report from the European Commission finds that these new techniques are becoming more common in environment, health, tax and consumer protection.

Where policies have traditionally been based to a certain degree on assumptions of how people behave, this new approach tests policies to understand how people actually behave and use these insights to improve services.

GovInsider looks at four behaviourally-inspired projects in Europe:

Car-free cities

Cities in Switzerland are using behavioural sciences to reduce the number of cars on the roads.

“Local residents were encouraged to hand over their car keys for two weeks or one month in exchange for a free electric bike and free use of the local mobility car-sharing scheme,“ the report says.

The aim was to encourage households to try out a lifestyle of not owning a car, creating a positive attitude towards it and encourage other kinds of transport.

Behavioural sciences show that people make choices based on their past experience, but also the availability, efficiency and convenience of the alternatives. “Such kinds of interventions aim to ‘break’ the ‘rule of thumb’ assessment when it comes to reflecting on the different transport alternatives to owning a car,” the report says.

Saving electricity

Finland wants to see how citizens can be nudged to reduce electricity consumption.

The country has build an ‘Easy Reminder’ app that tracks computer screen usage, and gives users information on how far they would have driven a car with the same energy.

The app was built by citizens at the country’s first ‘Behaviour Change Hackathon’ held last year.

The project looking to encourage people to change their behaviour as an alternative to installing sensors in older buildings. Behavioural insights “offer efficient solutions for promoting sustainable behaviour, while avoiding costly investments”, the report says.

Healthier diets

The Estonian Government provides citizens with nutritional information of their diet online to encourage more health eating.

For example, a “salt calculator” lets people compare the salt content of different products and calculate the amount of salt they consume everyday.

If their diet exceeds the maximum recommended amount, the number turns red and displays a warning message: “The salt content in your selected daily menu is greater than the amount allowed. See tips on how to reduce the amount of salt in everyday menu”.

Organ donations

Studies have shown that changing the default to ‘opt-out’ in organ donations attracts a higher participation. Austria and France have adopted the system where people are organ donors by default unless they choose otherwise.

France will take this a step further in the future, with close relatives being “told” of plans to use deceased adults’ organs, rather than “consulted”.

The UK Government has an opt-in system, but its Behavioural Insights Team has tested other ways to increase registrations. It found that reciprocal messages – like ‘If you needed an organ transplant, would you have one? If so please help others.’ – were the most effective way of communicating with citizens.