How we’re using behavioural science insights

Behavioural science research provides insights into how people make decisions and act upon them in actual situations. These insights can help government to design and re-design public services that better reflect how people respond to, engage with and use these services.

Applying behavioural science insights can mean making public services easier to access, by simplifying forms and processes, as well as helping citizens make more informed choices by clearly presenting options and offering timely reminders. Programs and services work best when they are designed with the people who use them in mind.

Ontario’s Behavioural Insights Unit (BIU) was the first public service behavioural science unit in Canada. Since the BIU’s official launch in 2015, Ontario has applied this innovative policy tool to generate evidence that supports more effective, human-centred programs and services for Ontarians – often while helping reduce costs. Today, the use of behavioural insights has become and established tool in many jurisdictions, including Impact Canada (Government of Canada), the BC Behavioural Insights Group (British Columbia), the the Behavioural Insights Team (United Kingdom),the NSW Behavioural Insights Unit (Australia) and the Office of Evaluation Sciences (United States).

Ontario has a rich and unique diversity of people and geography. What works in other jurisdictions may not always work in Ontario. By testing what works (and just as importantly, what doesn’t) through pilot projects, experts in behavioural science are helping to design programs made to work for Ontarians.

Completed pilot projects

Several pilot projects within Ontario have shown that using behavioural science insights to design services can significantly improve outcomes.

For more information on how Ontario is applying this innovative policy tool, read our project reports and summaries below.

Behavioural Insights in Ontario: update report 2020

Since 2018, 13 new pilot behavioural science projects were completed. Read how these projects generated made-in-Ontario, evidence-based recommendations to help ensure compliance, promote the use of digital services, improve health and safety, and increase the uptake of programs and services. Some highlights in this report include:

  • increasing timely and online municipal fine payments which lead to a projected increase of $9.3 million dollars in collected fines per year, and a projected $4.85 million yearly reduction in avoidable late fees and interest incurred by Ontarians and 33,900 fewer drivers facing suspension annually
  • work to increase the uptake of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine – resulting in 1,120 more students protected against preventable cancers during the pilot alone
  • helping increase cervical cancer screening rates for eligible women by 30% by redesigning the letters sent to Ontario women eligible for Human Papillomavirus (Pap) screening.
  • increasing the likelihood that high school students will report their vaccination status online by 3 times – helping to reduce the number of students suspended because failure to report their up-to-date vaccine records to their local public health unit
  • increasing the uptake of the MyBenefits Online Service by 4 times – making it easier for Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program clients to report income and manage their case information
  • increasing applications for the Ontario Electricity Support Program leading to $309,672 saved annually by social assistance clients on electricity bills due to the trial alone

If you are interested in learning more about how you can apply Behavioural Insights to address your program or service challenge, email for a copy of the digital, interactive Behavioural Insights Workbook.

Read the Behavioural Insights in Ontario: update report 2020

Behavioural Insights in Ontario: Update Report 2018

This report highlights some of the province’s early accomplishments in applying behavioural science to tackle sticky policy challenges. Some of the big wins include the project reports outlined below on addressing Roofing in the underground economy and improving Organ donor registration. Other pilot projects in this report include:

  • modifying bin labels to increase accurate recycling behaviour
  • increasing timely collection of Employer Health Tax
  • promoting uptake of the photo health insurance card
  • advisory services supporting the public sector

Read the Behavioural Insights in Ontario: update report 2018

Roofing in the underground economy report

The goal for this project was to increase the homeowners’ awareness of the risks of using unlicensed roofers (without proper training, equipment and insurance) that are part of the underground economy.

A month-long trial tested the performance of various ad messages on Google and Kijiji to direct homeowners searching for a roofer to a webpage filled with useful tips, tools, and the Consumer Beware List of contractors who had complaints issued against them.

Traffic to the Ministry of Labour’s website increased by 144% during the trial.

The best performing ads that were identified through this project were used as part of this year’s Spring 2016 campaign, to reach as many people as possible with this important information.

Read the Behavioural Insights Pilot Project – Roofing In the Underground Economy

Organ donor registration report

The goal for this project was to improve the organ donor registration process and increase registration rates.

An eight-week trial at one ServiceOntario centre tested a number of approaches to improve the donor registration process, including simplifying the registration process, and making it easier and faster to complete organ donor registration forms for both the public and customer service representatives.

Registration rates increased up to 143% compared to current registration rates during the pilot.

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care is working with ServiceOntario to integrate the lessons learned from this project into the current organ donor registration process to further increase registration rates.

We collaborated with academic partners from the Behavioural Economics in Action at Rotman Centre (BEAR) on this project. A more detailed description of this research has been published in Advances in Consumer Research.

Read the Behavioural Insights Pilot Project – Organ Donor Registration

Contact the behavioural insights unit

To learn more about behaviour sciences research insights in Ontario email with your questions and comments.