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GCS builds on scientific approach to communication

The Government Communication Service (GCS) has launched a new guide for communication professionals in government, outlining how to use the principles of behavioural science to improve campaign outcomes.

As part of the guide, a new framework has been created: IN CASE. This provides a mechanism by which to anticipate potential unintended consequences of a campaign or intervention.

Created by the GCS Behavioural Science team, this new guide builds on the previously published The Principles of Behaviour Change Communications – bringing together rigorous academic research and existing best practice to give communicators practical ways to apply behavioural science to their campaigns.

Government Communication campaigns aim to improve and even save lives – from giving blood to giving up smoking. As we do this, we can use this new guide to minimise and mitigate unintended consequences.

The “IN CASE” acronym stands for:

I – Intended behaviour – a campaign or intervention successfully drives the intended behaviour change, which leads to further unintended consequences.

N – Non-target audiences – a campaign or intervention causes unintended behaviour or attitude changes among audiences that were not the intended target.

C – Compensatory behaviours – a campaign or intervention leads people to change their behaviour in undesirable ways in response to perverse incentives.

A – Additional behaviours – a campaign or intervention leads to the intended behaviour change, but this leads to changes in other behaviours that may have undesirable consequences.

S – Signaling – a campaign or intervention sends a signal to the public about current behaviours, expectations, and norms.

E – Emotional impact – a campaign or intervention induces an emotional response that may lead to maladaptive behaviour changes, disengagement or fatalism.

Alex Aiken, Executive Director of Government Communication, yesterday commented:

“Any intervention that aims to change behaviour in a complex system can lead to so-called unintended consequences, and as communicators, we should aim to anticipate as many of them as possible. That’s what this guide is all about, thinking through the actual response of people, communities and businesses to the ask that public service makes of them.”

Behaviour change in practice

Abigail Emery, Deputy Head of Behavioural Science at the Cabinet Office, yesterday said:

“When our team started to think about how to help policymakers and communicators anticipate unintended consequences, we scoured the literature and existing guidance for an accessible model that we could teach and share. When we found very little out there, we were inspired to develop IN CASE – a straightforward and intuitive framework that we hope can be applied straight away across government and beyond.

“We debuted the framework at Civil Service Live in June 2021 which shows just how much interest there is in the subject of unintended consequences. The positive feedback from this session pushed us to develop “IN CASE” into a publication, which we are really excited to launch today.”

Read the new IN CASE: A behavioural approach to anticipating unintended consequences guidance

Explore communication and behavioural science further

For an overview of how behavioural science impacts strategic communication, watch Dr Laura de Molière’s webinar (GCS members only, 2 CPD points). In it, she explains the benefits of using the principles of behavioural science to create campaigns and wider communications activities and how they can be applied to GCS’ OASIS model.


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