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When David Cameron first became Prime Minister in May, 2010, he entered office with few delusions about how hard legislative change would be. He not only led the first coalition government in 65 years he also led a party divided over its future direction. So when his director of strategy Steve Hilton suggested he look into whether people’s behaviour might change without the need for legislation he didn’t have to be asked twice. A small team of social psychologists were brought in to No10 to do just that.

At first people were sceptical about the Behavioural Insight Team, known as the nudge unit after the influential book Nudge: Improving decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness by University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler. They put a lot of emphasis on testing things out in ‘real world’ situations before making wider changes. But when it started delivering results that cut costs as well as improving behaviour without the need for legislation people started to really sit up.

Jobseekers who spoke to someone rather than filling out forms as soon as they went to a Job Centre were 20 per cent less likely to be on benefits 13 weeks later. Sending a text message rather than a letter to someone owing a court fine increased payment rates by 500 per cent. Forcing callers to the non-emergency 101 number to wait just six seconds before someone picked up led to most nuisance callers hanging up.

In 2014 the Behavioural Insight Team, spun off from No10 into a mutual joint venture part owned by its employees, part owned by charity Nesta and part owned by the government. BIT can now work for whoever it wants.

It isn’t just the British government that is keen to take on the services of BIT. The New South Wales Government enlisted BIT to help it find ways of shaping public behaviour in everything from tax payment to domestic violence and obesity. While in New York BIT has been helping mayors and local leaders to engage the public and make government more effective.

Today BIT helps the NHS, Met Police, government departments, local councils, quangos, charities and corporations. But it is not just a British success story. BIT employs almost 100 people in offices in London, Manchester, New York and Sydney with projects in 14 countries worldwide. It has been so successful that both the US and India have copied BIT creating their own behavioural science teams with other government’s likely to follow suit.

In tiny but important ways, from recycling to donating organs to paying taxes, the work of BIT is quietly nudging us into better behaviours, often without us knowing it. It is a field in which Britain is leading the way and the world is following. Without being too pushy nudge economics has become a great British export.

John Higginson is a member of Bright Blue, Head of Corporate Communications for ICG and former political editor of Metro. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.