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Bridging the Gap Between Data and Policy

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What foods can you buy at the grocery store? How much does your health care cost? Will you qualify for a mortgage? 

The answers to all of these questions are determined by public policy. Even though most of us don’t give policy much thought as we go about our day-to-day lives, it’s working behind the scenes to shape pretty much everything we do. 

Given the massive impact of public policy decisions, it’s crucial that these choices be grounded in data. But that’s not always the case. Even as we’re producing more data than ever before, our public policies don’t always keep pace with the evidence. 

Meet the Client: The Nesta Innovation Mapping Team

This problem is a big one for the Nesta Innovation Mapping Team. As the U.K.’s leading innovation foundation, Nesta’s core mission is to harness the force of innovation to tackle some of society’s largest problems. The Innovation Mapping Team helps policymakers navigate complex innovation systems by synthesizing huge datasets into easy-to-use tools, including interactive visualizations and practical toolkits.

Organizations like Nesta are doing crucial work to ensure that policymakers understand the people they’re creating policy for. But in order to bridge the gap between data and policy, they need to make sure it’s reaching the right people — policymakers — at the right time, and in the right format to capture their attention.  

Evening over Millennium Bridge

Ultimately, influencing policy means understanding how policymakers make decisions, and creating resources that speak to them directly. We partnered with Nesta to help them do just that. We started off by conducting a review of state-of-the-art methodologies for measuring how evidence is used in policy decisions, and then developed a set of behavioral strategies to boost their work’s impact on policymakers. 

Key insights

With so much information now freely available online, creating policy resources is only half the battle. Organizations like Nesta also need strategies to ensure that policymakers are accessing, engaging with, and eventually using their work to make informed decisions. 

Behavioral UX design is just as important here as it is for any other digital product. In the business world, brands always take the time to create personas for their target customers, map out the customer journey for each of them, and optimize important touchpoints to keep nudging customers towards making a purchase. Evidence producers like Nesta can use these same tools to get their work in front of the right people, at the right moments. 

A behavioral lens can also help organizations build resources that resonate with their target consumers — in this case, policymakers. What formats of content are policymakers most likely to engage with? What factors make them more likely to use evidence in their decision-making, or to share evidence more widely? 

These are all questions that can only be answered through behavioral research. In our work with Nesta, we identified some insights from past studies about how policymakers engage with evidence, and also came up with some additional methods that Nesta could use to get to know their target “market” and their decision-making processes.

TDL has given our team helpful guidance on navigating [this] conceptually & empirically challenging space.

— Principal Researcher (Innovation Systems) @ Nesta

Cutting through the noise

In the attention economy, behavioral design is everything. If products aren’t intuitive and engaging, chances are that users will click away and move on to something else. 

The same rules apply to policymakers and evidence uptake. Here, behavioral design can spell the difference between policy choices that are based on data and policy choices that are skewed by outside factors.

Originally funded by a £250 million endowment, Nesta is one of the UK’s largest charities. In the past, the Innovation Mapping Team has worked with major partners including the European Union and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The future projects that will be shaped by TDL’s recommendations could have implications for millions of people. 

Our recommendations will give Nesta the tools to bring their research insights into the real world. With some help from behavioral design, we can endure not only that evidence reaches the people who need to see it, but also that resonates with them enough to influence important policy decisions.

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