Helping agencies deliver ‘high-impact messages’

A new framework provides ‘a recipe’ for improving compliance through written communications, researchers say.

Using clear language and underscoring the fairness of requests are among the ways that public servants can influence behaviour and improve compliance with their written requests, according to a new framework.

Developed by researchers at Monash University, the framework is the first model of behaviour change specifically designed to impact public administrators’ ability to produce effective and impactful written communications.

While behaviour sciences research has identified techniques that can be used in written communication to influence behaviour, the model is the first attempt to combine those elements into a single framework for bureaucrats to use, the researchers say.

Their INSPIRE model, which has been published in the journal Public Administration Review, has already been tested by several government agencies in Australia.

VicRoads used the framework to increase drivers’ compliance with medical fitness to drive reviews by 23 per cent, while the Victorian health department increased influenza vaccination rates in indigenous communities by a third using the model.

The researchers say they have been invited to deliver training on the framework to a range of other government agencies.

“The INSPIRE framework is designed to be a practical tool for improving written communications (e.g. letters, emails, notices on websites) in which there is a request to perform a specific behaviour,” write the team from the university’s BehaviourWorks Australia.

Each of the framework’s techniques have been demonstrated in previous research to increase compliance with written requests to perform a behaviour under certain conditions, they report.

The framework’s elements are:

  1. implementation intentions: these aim to help close the gap between people’s stated intentions and their actual behaviour
  2. norms: the letter’s author should carefully select a reference group that the audience identifies with
  3. salience: achieved through using coloured font or backgrounds, for example
  4. procedural justice: structuring written requests in a way that promote fairness and compliance
  5. incentives: small incentives can be built into communications, as can disincentives (e.g. a late fee)
  6. reputation: credibility is increasingly important given the rise in disruptive communication and scams
  7. ease: making compliance easy for the target audience; well-written content can promote comprehension and compliance.

In practice, letters and emails written using the framework would incorporate the ease technique and at least one of the other techniques, according to Nick Faulkner, a research fellow at BehaviourWorks Australia and the paper’s lead author.

“This means using simple language and helpful headings to make it easy for people to quickly understand what they are being asked to do,” Dr Faulkner told Government News.

“It also means doing things like mentioning that everyone else is already doing the behaviour (norms), or adding information that explains the reasons for the request, and expresses understanding and respect for the recipients (procedural justice),” he said.

Comment below to have your say on this story.

If you have a news story or tip-off, get in touch at  

Sign up to the Government News newsletter.

Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required