Qatar’s already detailed planning for a tangible, long-term legacy from the 2022 FIFA World Cup™ just got even more scientific. The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) has launched its very own Behavioural Insight Unit, which will help residents of Qatar and the region make smarter choices about environmental issues such as energy and water consumption, healthy eating and living, and will even help improve engagement at the SC’s workers’ welfare forums.

SC Secretary General, H.E. Hassan Al Thawadi, spoke about the Behavioural Insight Unit at the World Innovation Summit for Health in November. Explaining the initiative, Al Thawadi said: “The Qatar National Vision 2030 focuses on economic diversification, environmental sustainability and human development. We looked at human and social development as we started launching our plans for legacy, and we came to realise that to leave sustainable legacies, it wasn’t good enough just to launch initiatives. To ensure sustainability, we have to try to influence human behaviour, to ensure that people subscribe to it on a deeper level, not just a superficial level.”

The SC’s Behavioural Insight Unit quickly moved from an idea to practical implementation, and from there to interaction with key initiatives already underway across Qatar. “I had read about behavioural economics, and then I sat down with Doctor Fadi Makki, who briefly introduced behavioural science and explained that the entire industry was up and coming,” Al Thawadi said, referring to the man leading the unit at the SC. “Based on that discussion, we saw that it was a great way to complement what we were doing and cement our legacy initiatives, by adding insights from behavioural economics and psychology, and using rigorous assessment tools such as randomised controlled trials.

“As we launched the Behavioural Insight Unit, we looked into a number of initiatives undertaken by the government already. That’s when we came to see the diabetes initiative, and others concerned with environmental sustainability, conserving energy and electricity and water consumption,” added Al Thawadi.

Over the next six years, the idea is to employ the power of football and the first FIFA World Cup™ in the Middle East to bring about positive behavioural changes, and create a regional centre of excellence in behavioural science. As Al Thawadi said: “We want to leverage a lot of relevant randomised control tests that are done throughout the world. We’ll then Arabise it, and look at what works and what doesn’t, and whether it is for the state of Qatar or potentially the Middle East. Through a systematic approach, we also want to find out what works throughout our initiatives.”

Since its inception, the unit has already started to improve the effectiveness of key SC projects, including those concentrating on environmental sustainability and workers’ welfare. "Small but calculated changes can have a huge impact", Al Thawadi added. “One of the areas where we are applying behavioural insights is energy consumption, collaborating with the power providers Kahramaa, while another area is the workers’ welfare forums launched last year. We noticed that the levels of engagement from the workers wasn’t as high as we’d expected, so we’re using randomised control tests to nudge them to become more engaged in the forums.

“We’re also talking to the Ministry of Health to complement some of their work, looking at healthy living and physical wellbeing. For 2017, we’re working with a local supermarket, jointly with Harvard University, to see how we can create the habit of buying healthier food. It is transformative in that you’re trying to influence people to make smarter choices without taking away their agency of control.”

Commenting on the SC’s creation of a Behavioural Insight Unit, Dr. David Halpern, creator of the first such unit in the world, and author of the book ‘Inside the Nudge Unit: How Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference’, praised Qatar’s initiative. He said: “It’s a wonderful project with this unit here in Qatar. It is an incredibly ambitious programme you are putting together, which we welcome. We really look forward to working with you in the coming months and years.”

Halpern led the 10 Downing Street Behavioural Insight Team (BIT) – known as the Nudge Unit – set up by then British prime minister David Cameron in 2010.