Behavioural insights and healthier lives

In 2014 VicHealth developed the Leading Thinkers initiative to make international thought leadership in behavioural insights practical and accessible for Victoria.

The initiative was planned as a series of multi-year residencies featuring eminent global practitioners who could spend an allocated period of time with VicHealth and mentor us, and our network of partners, in their practice.

VicHealth’s first inaugural Leading Thinker was Dr David Halpern of the UK Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), supported by the Behavioural Insights Team based in New South Wales, Australia.

The objectives of Dr Halpern’s residency were:
  • To assist VicHealth in building knowledge and capability in behavioural insights (BI) and its application to health promotion, with a specific focus on trials targeting health behaviour change
  • To make these learnings and practices accessible across the Victorian public sector and our network of government departments, industry/corporate partners and health promotion delivery partners.
Governance Framework:

Oversight and governance for the Leading Thinkers initiative was provided through a combination of mechanisms:

  • Lead partners: Founding Partners in the inception of the Leading Thinkers initiative.
  • Leading Thinkers Taskforce: Established to provide guidance on key strategic matters for state policy that should frame the overall program investment and outputs.
  • Obesity Expert Reference Panel: Established to provide expertise and credentials to shape the focus and approach of the deliberative forum on obesity.

The entire list of names can be viewed on the inside cover of this report.


New knowledge about ‘what works’ in getting people to change their health behaviour:


Seven behavioural trials designed for delivery by VicHealth and partners (City of Melbourne, Etihad Stadium, Alfred Hospital, Timboon & District Healthcare Services and four licenced premises). Within 12–15 months, some trials have achieved significant results, and all have provided new insight into how we use human behaviour to inform policy and practice. Behavioural Insights offers a new model for understanding what works in health promotion that doesn’t need to involve millions of dollars or multi-year studies. In the right circumstances this is an extremely cost efficient way to build evidence to advance public health objectives.

A deliberative forum – Australia’s largest citizens’ jury 

Victoria’s Citizens’ Jury on Obesity had one hundred ‘everyday Victorians’ deliver a consensus view on the 20 recommendations, or ‘asks,’ that, if implemented by government, industry and civil society, would enable Victorians to eat better. This deliberation occurred over a six-week period.

A growing capability within the Victorian public sector in applying behavioural insights concepts and practices to health promotion and across government:

Workshop training

Eleven practical workshops enabled access to Behavioural Insights training for 395 public sector and non-profit professionals.

Public lectures

Seven public lectures conducted to provide almost 900 professionals with a basic understanding of behavioural insights concepts and their potential for application in health promotion.

New collaborations and partnerships:

A community of practice

A community of practice is being launched for behavioural insights in health promotion, in collaboration with the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Victorian Department of Health and Human Services and the trial partners mentioned.

An international partnership

Between VicHealth, the What Works Centre for Wellbeing in the UK and the Department of Premier and Cabinet in Victoria focusing on mental wellbeing and resilience.

The application of behavioural insights to health promotion remains a nascent field. The Leading Thinkers initiative is designed so that each subsequent residency will extend the achievements of prior ones. VicHealth will continue to build on the outcomes of Dr Halpern’s work in the next Leading Thinker residency. As such, the next Leading Thinker will allow us to expand the application of behavioural insights in health promotion. We look forward to announcing our next Leading Thinker.

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