Applied Sociology in Rural and Remote Education

Title at the top reads: "Applied Sociology in Training and Education." A woman and man sit at a table. She's writing and he's pointing at her work. They're both Asian and Brown

This is the second of two posts showing how applied sociology is used in a multi-disciplinary behavioural science project to improve social policy and program delivery.

We scaled our previous trials that used behavioural science to increase pre-service teachers’ uptake of professional placements in rural and remote New South Wales (NSW). We used timely and personalised communications, simplified research on placements, and offered a group placement experience. These interventions led to 55 pre-service teachers completing their placements at geographically isolated schools, with 100% of them saying they would consider taking up long-term employment at a rural or remote school in the future.

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Applied Sociology in Vocational Education

Oil-style picture of two White people in paint-soaked clothes. A woman on the left holds a hammer. The man on the right holds a paint roller. We can't see their faces. The top third of the graphic has the heading "Appleid sociology in vocational education"

This is part one of two posts showing how applied sociology is used in a multi-disciplinary behavioural science project to improve social policy and program delivery.

Our randomised control trial (RCT) sought to improve outcomes for apprentices and trainees through a behavioural intervention. Learners and their employers were separately visited to discuss contractual responsibilities and to set goals that were meaningful to the learner. Fortnightly emails to employers and text messages (SMS) to learners then reinforced these themes for a period of three months. At the end of this time, separate phone calls to employers and learners were undertaken to check their progress on goals and to work through any workplace issues. We then stopped further communication and analysed completion rates 12-months later. Though our intervention did not lead to a statistically significant result in the retention rate of learners, we suggest early, behaviourally informed support in the first 12 months can help learners persevere toward apprenticeship completion.

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How to Increase Voluntary Participation in Programs Using Behavioural Insights

Reducing reoffending is a state priority in New South Wales. New sentencing reforms will increase referrals to behaviour change programs or other support services for people who are at high-risk of reoffending. Yet non-mandatory programs can often have low participation rates, particularly when programs are new.

We set out to better understand the social context affecting voluntary participation in programs for people at-risk of reoffending. Here’s how we used behavioural science to promote better service delivery for this vulnerable cohort.

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Applying Behavioural Insights to Emergency Decision-Making

Flood-related fatalities have been an ongoing problem in Australia since the early 1900s. Deaths during floods rank second only to heat waves in natural disaster fatalities. Approximately 159 people died from flooding in Australia during the last 15 years, with half (53%) due to driving through floodwater. NSW, together with QLD, represent 74% of flood fatalities. Rural and regional areas in NSW are especially at-risk.

Driving through flood water is a pressing issue, and has been a persistent problem behaviour that has been tough to shift.

The following reflects how the Behavioural Insights Unit (BIU) worked through this behavioural issue, and brainstormed problems, during a recent masterclass with NSW State Emergency Service (NSW SES).

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New Frontiers in Behavioural Insights

I was live tweeting throughout the Behavioural Exchange conference, which was held in Sydney. It brings together policy-makers, practitioners and academics working in behavioural insights – the use of behavioural and social sciences to improve decision-making using evidence-based enhancements to services, programs and policies.

Day 1

Keynote by Cass Sunstein

Issues with behavioural science ‘nudges‘ (social enticements or environmental cues to optimise desired choices, especially with respect to social policy). To force people to choose when they don’t want to make a decision impacts their dignity.  This isn’t the intention of nudging.

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Behavioural Science for Education and Vocational Training

Drawing of a woman tradesperson holding a mobile phone. The text reads: this is what your apprentice is learning this week

Have you ever wondered why people behave in unexpected ways, often against their own interest? This is because many of our social institutions, including the law, education and economy are built around rules that don’t always take into account people’s social context and their motivations when making decisions. Convention in Western societies is that financial incentives and punitive measures (like fines) can incentivise people to do the right thing. Behavioural science research shows this is not always true. In fact, while money and sanctions work in some situations for some groups, most behaviours are not able to be easily changed through cash and penalties. (These can sometimes backfire!)

Behavioural science is the use of behavioural economics, psychology, anthropology, sociology and other social sciences for the purpose of improving behavioural outcomes. Behavioural insights is specifically the application of this science to improve effectiveness for decision-making, public services and policy. Here’s a case study of behavioural insights in action in education and vocational training.

Using fieldwork research and randomised control trials, the Behavioural Insights Unit (BIU) test low-cost behavioural science changes to issues affecting different groups in society.

For example, we know that 48% of apprentices in New South Wales cancel their contracts within the first year, and 77% will cancel within two years. That’s a tremendous personal cost to these students, which also translates to $91 million loss of the state’s economy in cancellations alone, and upwards of $348 million in related revenue. BIU’s research shows apprentices who cancel their employment contracts do so because they often feel they are subjected to tough working conditions for little pay (undertaking menial, repetitive tasks and long hours), receiving little guidance about their progress on the job.

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