Behavioural Interventions Meta-Analysis

So I’m generally interested in how you change behaviour. I think having the tools to do that for yourself is massively empowering, and as long as it’s used for the “right” ends, then it can be very socially impactful. (Of course it depends how you define the “right” ends and that is a whole other question – and I think one that needs lots of democratic input, caution and criticism).

Whist propaganda has been around for a while, there’s been an explosion of behavioural interventions in recent years, partly thanks to enabling technologies (particularly to do with measurement) and partly thanks to pushes at high levels (e.g. by the UK’s Behavioural Insights Team). So what works? On the to-do list is a forced-rank list of intervention types for behavioural change projects so that we can compare different types of intervention on the same metric.  The idea is inspired John Hattie’s work on education – Hattie combined meta-analyses on different types of educational interventions e.g. involving the teacher, the student, the home, curriculum etc and converted all of the meta-analyses into effect sizes on educational attainment that could be compared. Hattie’s work has been a 15-year project so doing the equivalent for behavioural change interventions (which are much less well-defined) may take a while! But I’ve started compiling a list of meta-analyses focusing on behavioural change. Let me know if you have studies to add! And thanks to James Norris @ Design Lab, Stanford for suggesting the idea.

Normative ethics training

I’ve really struggled in the past to explain what social impact measurement is in a way that doesn’t make people yawn at the idea of ticking a box to make funders happy. My current “exciting” way to explain it is that it’s basically “philosophy + data = better decisions to have more impact”.  You need the philosophy to answer the question “What are we aiming for?” and you need the data to answer the question “Have we achieved it?”  And you need both to make good decisions.  The first question is woefully neglected in the sector – people take “their cause” at face value rather than looking at the first principles of why they think it’s important. For me, the first principles are interesting because it changes how you make decisions – what you want to prioritise and what trade-offs you’re willing to accept. (The second question of “Have we achieved it?” is also super interesting – I tackle it separately).

I recently did some training for Worthwhile, a  graduate training scheme for “for-purpose” sector. It focused on the philosophy question, and got people to ask themselves “Why do I do what I do?” I’ve written up the different approaches one can take to this question (different approaches to “normative ethics”) and tried to draw out how it changes your decisions. It also affects how you measure but that’s a post for another time 😉

Teas from around the world

I love tea, and I also love strangers so it was really great to help organise the Tea With Strangers “anniversi-tea“. The theme was “Teas from around the World” and we had everything from bubble tea to vanilla chai to Tibetan butter tea.  We had 12 different nationalities in the room, and explored questions like:

“What question is on your mind at the moment?”

“What’s the first thing that you think about in the morning?”

“What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?”

A really lovely opportunity for a bunch of strangers to take a step out of their comfort zone and be vulnerable.  It was also a chance to find surprising commonalities, and recognise that no one is ever “sorted” no matter how it seems from the outside.

tea with strangers


MakeSense is a global community of people passionate about social enterprise. I’ve been part of the community since 2013 when I set up the “HotSpot” in Oxford. I’ve helped run 20+ “HoldUps” (design thinking workshops) bringing in members of the public to help social entrepreneurs come up with new solutions to a particular challenge they are facing. From creating sustainable luxury accommodation out of buses to a musical to introduce people to social enterprise, it’s been a whirlwind of interesting people and projects!

I’m currently working on a new style of HoldUp which uses insights from the behavioural sciences to design better products and services. It’s specifically for social enterprises whose “social” is through trying to change people’s behaviour.  This is because so many of our social problems are created by our habits (think everyday exercise routines, the “occasional” extra chocolate bar, switching on the heating for a bit of extra comfort, buying expensive food for the convenience).  This isn’t to lay all of the blame at the individuals’ feet – there are certainly systemic changes that need to be made too. But we need to work at every level.  I’ve trialed the workshop so far in the Netherlands for a health and fitness shop, in Belgium for a bicycle cooperative and in London for a circular economy org. It’s been very much inspired by the work of the Behavioural Insights Team and by BJ Fogg‘s work at Stanford so lots of credit to them.

Here is the current version of the workshop – it’s not currently beautifully designed – still working on that! If you’d like to run it yourself for a project or have any suggestions, get in touch – I’m always tweaking it. And of course get in touch if you’d like your social enterprise to feature (it’s free like everything else MakeSense does for social enterprises).


Vicky Clayton

I’m interested in understanding humans and why they do the things that they do. Partly because I find them fascinating and partly because I think it’ll give me the best chance in figuring out how to help solve some of our biggest challenges. Trying to understand has taken me from genetics, ecology, anthropology, sociology, demography, human geography, animal behaviour, psychology and economics to data science.


Current Projects

Previous projects and parked projects.