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Case studies

What we learnt from a 'quick and dirty' behavioural study

Just before lockdown began, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue kicked off a small behavioural insights study. They wanted to know which kind of images and messaging made more of an impact with the public. Are shock tactics old news? Here, Corporate Communication Manager Alex Mills details what they found...

We’ve long been inspired by the work of Daniel Kahneman and David Halpern and the Behavioural Insights Team.

‘Nudge theory’ has even gained renewed national exposure lately in light of the debate around the Government’s new ‘Stay Alert’ campaign branding.

But nudging people into desired behaviours or, to put it another way, finding out what works, doesn’t have to mean huge trials, months of painstaking work and a degree in psychology.

We reckon even a quick and dirty analysis of the messages you’re sharing and how you’re sharing them is something any communication team could and should be doing to inform their work.

Our study was simple. We posted out leaflets to 4,000 people asking them to check for some common fire safety hazards in the kitchen. We then asked them to complete a tear off response slip and post it back to us, confirming that they’d carried out the checks.

We split the addresses into four study groups of 1,000 so that we could test the impact of two variables on response rates- the image we used, and the message which went with it.

We discovered that:

  • Using an image of a firefighter was most effective at prompting people to check their safety, compared to that of a child. This might sound like an obvious conclusion. Fire services have spent decades putting dramatic images of fire crews fighting blazes on their campaign materials. But we theorised that an image of a child might prompt people to think differently about the consequences of a fire. We were wrong. We’ve inferred from this that shocking imagery which ties closely to the core message still has a role to play in prompting behaviour change. This conclusion is backed up by other, focus group based research we carried out recently.
  • Emphasising the financial cost of suffering a kitchen fire was most effective at prompting people to check their safety, compared to emphasising the risk to life. This result was more surprising. Our inference, supported by other research, is that people are less likely to identify with the relatively rare occurrence of a loss of life from fire, compared with the reasonably foreseeable risk of losing money or possessions. It’s something we’re going to adopt in our future campaigns from now on.
  • Combining the right image with the right message has the biggest impact on response rates. The leaflet with the image of a firefighter and which emphasised the financial impact of a fire, outperformed the worst performing communication (which had neither) by two percentage points. If you scaled that result up from 1,000 people to 1.3 million people (the population of South Yorkshire), the difference in response rates could be as many as 30,000 people.

This was a tiny study, with a relatively small sample size and a pretty average response rate. Yet we’ve still been able to draw some useful insight from it.

Pandemic, lockdown, home working. It’s given us plenty of problems, but some opportunities too- like the time and space to think about our work and how we do it.

Hopefully this piece will inspire some of you to have a go at something similar too. 

Doing things differently - Kent's online open day

We've all had to really think outside the box, over the last few months, to come up with innovative solutions to traditional problems. Lancashire's Richard Edney has been particular impressed with one example from Kent Fire & Rescue...  

The last few months has changed how many of us are working and our plans for the year have mostly been left behind as we have been contributing to our service’s and county’s frontline response to COVID19.

In recent weeks however, we have seen a move to a transitional phase which may become the way of life for the foreseeable future. For us in Lancashire, this has seen conference calls about the development of our intranet and talks about recruitment. It feels like starting a new job again!

One area of work that I have given thought to but struggled to come up with any concrete solutions for is how do we replace some of the events that we run over the summer months where we can engage with members of public and in some cases raise money for charities such as The Fire Fighters Charity?

As these thoughts were going around my head, I saw a tweet from Kent Fire and Rescue Service advertising an online open day on Thursday 28 May. I've been interested to hear from the Engagement Team at Kent FRS about the planning and the tools and technology they used to make it happen. Both me and my son watched with keen interest in Lancashire and I'm hoping that the success of this event is something that can be replicated across all fire and rescue services in the country.

You can see the first episode of the open day here

Great idea, Kent FRS!

Best practice from across the sector

There has been some brilliant work from fire service communicators since lockdown began - especially on social media. One service that seems to have stood out in particular is Cambridgeshire. We asked Communications Officer, Robyn Hall, for an insight into what they've been up to, what they've seen from other services and what they think the future holds...

Poster competition

This was something launched by South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue early on. Many other fire services quickly followed suit. In the absence of school visits and Safety Zones, the competition was a great way to engage with young people and support parents and teachers with a useful home schooling resource, while getting clear safety messages across. Fire services engaged with local communities in relevant parenting groups on Facebook and though contacts within the service to help spread the word.

Virtual station tours

Stations across the country have been inviting residents into their stations virtually. With hundreds of kids missing out on station tours through local clubs, groups and school visits, firefighters have been creating videos to educate children on what’s behind the bay doors.

The first one shared in Cambridgeshire has been watched almost 40,000 times by children and adults alike. Not only an educational video but also creating a sense of community, with many people sharing their fond memories of former visits and stories of their children being inspired on the posts. Bedfordshire did a great one, too, which you can see here.

Light hearted content

Despite the seriousness of the pandemic, we’ve still been able to put a smile on people faces. During the first week of lockdown, firefighters took part in the Saturday Night Takeaway audience segment. Their quickly choreographed routine has been viewed over 300k times and received hundreds of comments on how it had cheered them up and lifted their spirits in what was and is a really difficult time. It might not be informative, have a safety message behind it, but sometimes it’s the right content and the right time.

Junior firefighter Darcey Cook stole the show with her firefighting skills. When we were sent this video, we had no idea how much it would take off, nor did we anticipated we’d be inundated with media requests and contracts about whether people could use the video. The video has been shared worldwide online and on TV and has been viewed millions of times.

Sure, it’s a cute video. But it’s also a great reminder that girls can be interested in being firefighters too, and recruiting more women in the fire service is an objective for most services. Since the video was shared we’ve been tagged in a few videos where families have replicated the activity with their young ones. It also demonstrates the importance of building relationships with colleagues to be sent stuff like this in the first place.


Be a hero, stay at home, save lives

We’d normal stay away from referring to firefighters as heroes, but felt it worked for the purpose of this video. It was filmed and editing in a really short time in response to the new government messaging at the time. We know that firefighters are seen as role models in the community, so it made sense to get them to support our partners in sharing the message in this way.

Multilingual video

Following feedback from the LRF of challenges faced with getting the message out to minority groups in the county, and the lack of multilingual resources available at the time, we created a multilingual ‘stay at home’ video. We engaged staff from across the organisation who speak different languages to record videos in their first language.

In just a couple of days we were able to put together a video in 10 different languages, all filmed by colleagues themselves. It might not have had the best reach or engagement, but was shared with partners though our positive action officers. This also promotes the diversity of the workforce, which could support future recruitment.

The idea was developed to produce shorter ‘test your smoke alarm’ videos in other languages too.

Internal communication

We’ve shifted to producing a daily bulletin for staff. We’ve done this every day since Monday 16 March, including weekends and bank holidays as part of our on-call arrangements. Staff have been incredibly positive about the bulletin, and many have shared that it’s helped them feel informed and engaged with the wider workforce while a huge proportion of staff are working from home. We’ve also shared regular video blogs from chief officers to give a more personal feel.


Letter for children of fire service staff

A number of fire services (I don’t know who started it originally) have had a letter from their Chief sent to all the children of fire service staff. It was a really touching gesture, landed well with staff and emphasised the family feel of the fire service. Credit to whoever came up with the idea!


Things we’re doing differently now that we will carry on doing in the future

If a video needed doing, the comms team would normally film it all. Since lockdown, we’ve still been able to produce video, but with colleagues filming it themselves instead. We're hoping this will continue.

Comms has always had a seat the table, but now more than ever, people appreciate the value comms has on staff engagement and being a critical friend. Our professional feedback is trusted and respected, and the senior leadership team know we’ve always got their back. We listen to staff and act on feedback, so being a key player in business continuity and recovery has really made a difference on what we’re doing as a service.

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