- NSW Government used ‘Behavioural Insights Unit’ to guide people’s conduct
- Unit was as part of Department of Customer Service during Covid pandemic
- Team advised government how to approach issues like vaccines and face masks
The NSW Government used behavioural experts to help them guide people’s conduct during the Covid pandemic.
The ‘Behavioural Insights Unit’ operated as part of the Department of Customer Service and was made up of 14 people that gave advice to the state government.
Documents obtained by The Daily Telegraph under Freedom of Information showed the unit had input on several topics spanning from vaccines to face masks.
The unit suggested the government reduce negative public perception of the Covid vaccine and its side effects.
It suggested using decimal figures, rather than round numbers, to make the risk of experiencing a side effect seem less likely.
‘When discussing risks, use the absolute percentage (i.e. 0.000004 per cent) rather than 1 in 250,000,’ the unit advised the government according to documents.
The unit also advised one possible way of increasing mask usage among young people was by applying to their egos.
It suggested usage would increase by 10 per cent on public transport if the state government followed the message: ‘Appealing to ego: Real heroes wear masks’.
There were also suggestions QR code check-in rates could be increased by harnessing the ‘surveillance effect’ at stores.
The unit advised telling store owners their check-in rates were lower than other stores would motivate them to make sure every visitor checked in.
The Institute of Public Affair’s Morgan Begg has accused the state government of manipulation.
‘These documents are further evidence of how governments used unprecedented tactics, including the weaponisation of psychological tricks by officials, to get people to accept the unacceptable,’ he said.
University of NSW economics lecturer and author of The Great Covid Panic, Professor Gigi Foster also slammed the government for the ‘manipulative’ tactics utilised by the unit.
‘What is revealed in the documents … is the manipulation of a population by its government, using tactics that have been found in the behavioural economics and psychology literatures to be particularly effective at changing behaviour,’ she said.
She added that it had helped the government ‘in manipulating people into complying with them’ and the measures used to convince people to get vaccinated were more akin to ‘shoves rather than nudges’.
The ‘Behavioural Insights Unit’ has been compared to the UK’s ‘nudge unit’, which is also a behavioural insights team that provides reports and analysis to the government to influence policy and improve public services.
The ‘nudge unit’ was also controversially used in the UK to guide people’s conduct during the Covid pandemic.