I grew up in Lusaka, Zambia dreaming of becoming a detective. So, for my doctoral research, I evaluated the effectiveness and practical implications of a new police lie detection technique. Once I got my PhD in Psychology and Law at the University of Warwick, I was keen to explore other avenues of interdisciplinary research that are very much grounded in the real world. I want to know that my work is having a meaningful impact.
At the end of my PhD, I came across this incredible trial with Virgin Atlantic captains and reached out to The Behaviouralist (Signol’s sister company, a research consultancy) to find out more. It turned out that the Virgin Atlantic study was being turned into a stand-alone company - Signol - and I jumped at the chance to join as a Behavioural Scientist. Unlike companies focused on nudging citizens or consumers, Signol has a different challenge of nudging experienced employees. Given I’d just been working with highly trained professionals (defence lawyers and police interviewers) in my PhD, I thought it was a great fit. I loved that I could put academic findings into practice.
When I joined Signol back in 2018, I was the first employee. So, in true startup fashion, I spent the first couple of years involved in everything from raising investment, sales, marketing, human resources, to design, grant-funding projects, finance, and my favourite part, organising social events for our small, but growing team!
Since then, our team size has grown to double digits and my role has become increasingly focused on conducting behavioural research for the product and even applying it to other parts of our business. I’m particularly excited because I’ve now started to grow my team with UX and UI designers and soon, more behavioural scientists - we get to specialise and play to our strengths.
Of course, Behavioural Science is still a burgeoning field and I’m still discovering new ways to incorporate behavioural research in our evolving company. Here are a few ways I work on our product:
• Simulate the entire Signol user experience over a few months for a small group of airline captains and capture their detailed feedback in surveys, interviews, and diary studies (this was a pandemic-era exercise)
• Delve into the research literature to identify techniques that could improve the user metrics we care about (we’re not an infinite-scroll app, we’re not necessarily looking to increase time spent on the app)
• Conduct research interviews with potential Signol users, such as maritime captains or airline dispatchers, and review the tools and dashboards they currently use (discovery research is a crucial step to adapting Signol for new users and behaviours)
• Design and run A/B tests for our most novel features as we now have a few hundred airline pilots actively using Signol (as our user base grows, we’ll have the statistical power to run more sophisticated experiments)
I’m excited to keep testing our initial assumptions and hypotheses about the product as we enter new industries! I love how surprising human behaviour can be. I’m particularly keen to refine our discovery process for new users and behaviours because that’s crucial to scale Signol. Stay tuned for our case studies…
Absolutely, we have a very collaborative team - I know I can always Slack a colleague for help and they’ll come through. When we make product or business decisions, everybody gets a say and almost always, we end up agreeing on a solution that builds on different individuals’ contributions. Being a startup, we also have a lot of freedom in determining what we focus on for the product or business and of course, what kind of culture we have.
A lot of behavioural research focuses on one-off nudges or behavioural interventions, whereas Signol is looking at continuously changing people’s behaviour in the long-term.
Over time, our users may maintain their fuel-saving behaviours even in the absence of our nudges. Alternatively, the effectiveness of our current nudges may also decline. We’re already looking at how we tackle that in a way that’s best for our users and customers.
Recently the Behaviour Change for Good group pioneered the concept of mega-studies, which are very large, collaborative trials that test different behavioural interventions across a variety of contexts. As more institutions adopt this approach, we should be able to model which interventions are most fitting for different types of individuals, societies, and behaviours. This is super relevant to Signol, for example, how do we design a nudge for an airline captain in Germany vs. a ship engineer in the Philippines?
In addition, we, as a society, have access to more and more data on what people are doing both online and offline at all times - that can be dangerous. So, I’m keen to see ethical frameworks or codes of conduct that guide Behavioural Science practitioners across both private and public sectors.
Applied Behavioural Science is a balance between following rigorous scientific methods and relying upon your own creativity and judgement to develop something that works for your particular challenge. But, you have to be comfortable with failure - not everything you design will work and I think those discoveries are what make Behavioural Science so fun.
Divya has recently spoke at the BAD Conference in London; you can also hear her on this fun podcast by Metta on Behavioural Science in the Wild here, or hear her talking about Signol x Wärtsilä at Rainmaking here.
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Signol is a software platform that draws on insights from behavioral economics to encourage employees to make more efficient decisions. Signol provides personalized feedback through multiple communication channels, as well as data analysis for managers. In aviation, Signol aims to use behavioral "nudges" and incentives to reduce pollution and fuel waste and cut operating costs.