Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink

The "Nudge Unit" is in the news today.  This is more properly known as the "Behavioural Insights Team" and exists to "nudge" people into making "better life choices".  I'm putting that in inverted commas because the more cynical among us might describe such a project differently.  One of the tasks they took on in recent months was to work with a group of unemployed people.  What they came up with was spectacularly obvious, and they released the news of its success three times before anyone took any notice.
On Tuesday we learned that this team have been inflicting a psychometric test on the unemployed - a test you can find here.  The Guardian describes it as bogus because users found that they could click repeatedly on the same answer and get the same results as someone who clicked repeatedly on the opposite answer.  Jobseekers have been threatened with sanctions by the DWP for not completing it, but then the DWP denied that anyone would be stripped of benefits.  The BBC also reported what Labour called "mumbo-jumbo" tests.
Now we hear that the unit is to become part of what the Independent calls "the great civil service sell-off".  It's to be "mutualised" - ownership will be around 25% government, 25% employees and 50% private companies, which will bid for the privilege.  Eventually up to 75,000 civil servants in a variety of sectors will be transferred into the private sector.  This will enable the government to claim that they have presided over the creation of all those new private sector jobs.  They are putting a completely different spin on it, of course, whilst admitting privately that it avoids the problems of "naked privatisation".
Universal Credit got off to a nervous start.  The Guardian pointed out that the first page of the application contains a spelling mistake - "seperating".


  1. Interesting that the BBC describe the so called personality test as "voluntary", They have a strange idea of what is voluntary when the threat of sanctions has been used to mandate people to take this useless test. I have seen Jobseeker's Directions requiring victims to waste their time on this useless piece of excrement - just how is that "voluntary"? More like an attempt to confuse and intimidate.

  2. Not sure how this "works" - questions about dangerious activities and sticking to diets can hardly be related to your ability to do a job. I'm sure the folks who think up this stuff disagree.

  3. It really annoys me that the job centre can make the unemployed, on benefits do, anything they want by threatening sanctions. I'm terrified I might do or say the wrong thing and loose my benefits. All it takes is a letter about an appointment going missing and that's it you're sanctioned because you didn't go to an appointment you knew nothing about.

  4. As far as the test from the "Behavioural Insights Team" is concerned, it IS a joke. I can confirm what the Guardian says. I have just completed the test about 10 mins ago. I did it TWICE in fact. Once when clicking on the FIRST question radio button repeatedly. And the second time clicking on the LAST question radio button repeatedly. Guess what? The answers are 100% identical!!!

    The Guardian video also mentions that this is costing £1/2 million a year to run!!! WHY??? This is both an insult and a disgraceful waste of taxpayers' money! I do wonder where the Taxpayers Alliance is when issues like this arise?

    Some may say £1/2 million is not a lot in the great scheme of things. However, this is a govt that constantly justifies cuts by saying they have to sort the deficit out. And then comes this, the waste of hundreds of thousands of pounds a year! Smith, Hoban, Freud and McVey really need to consider their positions and ask whether it is THEY who are fit for purpose along with their pointless schemes, programs and pet projects!

  5. The test doesn't allow for people who have never been on diets. There are some of us around. How do I truthfully answer a question which asks about my ability to stick with a diet when i have never been on one?

    The concept of dangerous activity varies between individuals. Had I not been ill I would now be doing volcanology rather than being unemployed. So to do things like rappel into the crater of an active volcano I need to be able to do what most people would describe as dangerous, but in actual fact would be a necessary part of my work. In other words I am able to assess risks accurately, but the questionnaire doesn't ask that.

    And it contains poor grammar.

  6. Yes, can attest to same result every time, first time I went through answering honestly as far as I could - some of the questions are very silly, but hey I cleaned out the fish tank yesterday thereby creating a thing of beauty.

    Second time I just clicked 'very unlike me' all the way through, with exactly the same result.

    What appalling waste of taxpayers money.

  7. Off topic I know, but as we're discussing pointless activities...did you notice Jonty's twitter account is visible again ? Not sure if he's allowed to be #happytoansweranyquestions though.

  8. Accidentally deleted a post, the crux of which is that the "test" itself probably cost a couple of bob, but that doesn't stop it being ridiculous, dishonest and coercive. If it's representative of the Nudge Unit's output, then it makes the idea of the NU as some sort of cooperative, profit making entity seem risible.

    Returning to the subject of the Work Programme though, one of the unusual problems this government has is that it overestimates the quality of its work. The Work Programme was going to be a model that could be marketed globally as a commercial product. Merlin - ditto. In reality, the former has been something of a disappointment whilst the latter (in combination with its outsourced assessment) is so useless that other departments in the UK don't want to use it.

    Having a wildly inflated opinion of one's work isn't limited to government - I've worked alongside staff from household name management consultants who've been peddling stuff that was clearly unworkable nonsense that they regarded as dynamite, despite it never having been tested. However, coming up with turkey after turkey and having the self-regard to think not just that it'll work but also that countries will be falling over themselves to benefit from the model and the supposed expertise is simply delusional.


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