Guest Blog by Stuart Carroll
“Slip Inside the Eye of Your Mind, Don’t You Know You Might Find, A Better Place to Play”
Does this title ring a bell? “Yes”, I can hear enthusiastic fans of Britpop exclaim. “Oasis, Don’t Look Back In Anger – number 1, 25th February 1996”. Correct. “What a tune!”. Definitely more than maybe. “What does that have to do with health policy?”. Good question. Fear not, my blog today is not some surreal attempt to recreate an online version of Never Mind the Buzzcocks or propose a philosophical outro to sum up Gordon Brown’s eviction from Number 10. What I am talking about here is MINDSPACE – Messenger, Incentives, Norms, Defaults, Salience, Priming, Affect, Commitment and Ego. A better acronym than mouthful, but more crucially something of central importance to the concept that is the Government’s public health proposals.
As a heath communications aficionado explained to me a short while ago, “A bit like garlic bread, it’s the future Stuart. This stuff is going to be big”. He wasn’t half right. With Sir Gus O’Donnell’s authoritative sign off, MINDSPACE is currently being wheeled out across Whitehall as a vanguard policy and communications tool. Having read the 23 pages of the Cabinet Office/Institute for Government’s blueprint, I can easily understand why. It also gives me some faith in the Civil Service. The mind map on the front cover aptly says it all. To influence public policy and public thinking, you need to do exactly that – think from all angles and get inside the way people think. If you do, you might find a better way of achieving your objectives. Although I am pretty sure his “influences” were different, Noel Gallagher wasn’t wrong after all.
Is MINDSPACE earth-shattering? Definitely not. But that’s not the point. This is not rocket science, nor is it supposed to be, but in Government (like most things in life) the complicated thing is keeping it simple. That axiom rings resoundingly true with the intractable business of health policy. Just ask the battered and “listened out” Andrew Lansley. To avoid future political tinnitus, the Government would be well-advised to marinade its public health strategy in the MINDSPACE dip. After all, this is all about “nudging” rather than “pushing” and in turn should help to make further reform to the wider NHS seem distinctly more appetising. In fairness, the “Applying behavioural insight to health” document co-signed by Oliver Letwin and Anne Milton signals the Government’s intent. Let’s hope so.
Of course, your grisly cynic will dismiss MINDSPACE as nothing more than conceptual fluff and guff; something straight out of a sententious Havard business manual; and generally a load of old tosh. I can assure readers that I am not someone who has much patience or tolerance for jargonistic indulgence, bunker thinking or text book training sessions from £500 per hour “consultants”. Just ask my work colleagues!! However, this is different. It touches on something so simple but so important it would be frankly irresponsible to rubbish or overlook it.
If the Government is really serious about public health – and the indications to date offer iridescent promise – there is no escaping the importance of context on our behaviour. Although as much a societal as a governmental challenge, the success of the Government’s public health reforms will depend on the ability to cultivate an environment more likely to improve rather than worsen wellbeing. That means it is all about communication – something successive governments have hardly excelled in when it comes to public health messaging. Without it, another generation will ask, “Where did it all go wrong?”.