The latest announcement by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health on the adoption of behavioural change is the right step as Malaysia aims to enter the endemic phase after October. Behavioural change is indeed much needed in the new norms as our population learn to live with the coronavirus.
Since last year, countries such as the UK and Denmark have been implementing behaviourally-informed policy to contain the spread of the virus while returning life to a limited form of normalcy. In May, I recommended behaviourally-informed interventions as a strategy to handle the pandemic (refer letter to The Star, New means to end pandemic, 21 May 2021).
Behavioural change can be promoted and achieved through educational programs and awareness campaigns. However, to affect behavioural change at policy level, policymakers should adopt nudges by carefully designing behaviourally-informed interventions based on identified gaps among the target population.
Nudges and other form of interventions can be implemented by targeting family units and workers, taking considerations of social norms and timing of intervention. To be effective, intervention should be easy and attractive too.
Any initiative to change behaviour should consider cognitive limitations and biases affecting humans’ decision-making. Simple acts such as estimating one’s physical distance at public places are typically influenced by one’s own biases. Such biases lead to undesirable behaviours and in turn, have considerable implication on the spread of Covid-19.
Equally important is measuring the effectiveness of behavioural interventions among population. While this can be a challenge, measurement or program evaluation would be much easier when it is incorporated at the onset of any intervention design.
In implementing behavioural change, multidisciplinary approach is required, with expertise from the field of behavioural insights complementing public health and public policy practitioners.
In Malaysia, the Malaysia Productivity Corporation (MPC) has been implementing behavioural insights as a public policy tool since last year to encourage the right mindset, attitudes and values using simple and cost-effective interventions. A community of practitioners is now growing to support behavioural insights practices in Malaysia’s policymaking.
With the right mix of expertise and carefully designed interventions, a successful behavioural change program among the population can be achieved as we learn to live with the coronavirus.
Mohammad Abdul Hamid
Public Policy Consultant & Behavioural Insights Practitioner