'Nudge unit' hires defence intelligence specialist as MD

The Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) has appointed intelligence expert Rachel Coyle as managing director, EMEA.

Rachel Coyle, managing director, EMEA, Behavioural Insights Team
Rachel Coyle, managing director, EMEA, Behavioural Insights Team

BIT, also known as the 'nudge unit', was a small unit of seven people in the Cabinet Office when it was established in 2010 to use behavioural economics to 'nudge' people to make choices that would help society.

Four years later it became a social purpose company and now has more than 150 staff in seven offices around the world.

It is co-owned by its staff, the Cabinet Office, and innovation-focused charity Nesta, and had revenues of £17.1m in the year ending 31 March 2019, making £1.1m in profit.

New start

Coyle started in her new job this week and said in a social media post: “I'm really proud to have started a new role as managing director for the Behavioural Insights Team.”

She added: “With schools and colleges closing, I'm sure a lot of you will be wondering how best to support children and young people learning at home. There's some interesting advice in our latest blog post.

The BIT blog looks at ways of supporting parents who are having to educate their children at home. It reads: “We have learnt that short messages with simple, actionable prompts can make it easier to engage in developmental activities – ideally by turning everyday activities into educational moments."

Defence of the realm

Coyle has an MPhil in international relations and an MA in Chinese studies, both from the University of Cambridge.

She spent six-and-a-half years at the Ministry of Defence, where she started out as a research analyst and Chinese linguist and rose to become assistant head of cyber operational policy. Coyle was awarded an MBE in 2013 for services to defence.

She left the MoD in 2014 to take up the role of associate director, business intelligence and investigations, Asia Pacific, at the Salamanca Group.

Coyle went on to spend four years at Salamanca Risk Management (S-RM), a corporate intelligence, crisis management, and cyber security consultancy, holding various roles, including head of corporate intelligence, before starting at BIT this month.


One of her first tasks is to deploy BIT’s expertise to help reduce the rate of spread of the coronavirus. The organisation is already looking at ways to reinforce the government’s advice on avoiding touching your face.

One problem is that people are “not getting much advice on how to avoid” this, according to a blog this month by Dr Michael Hallsworth, managing director of BIT North America.

He suggests that, while not ideal, people could be encouraged to “associate rubbing their eyes or nose with the back of their wrist or arm, areas that may have been less exposed to infection than fingers”.

And Dr Hallsworth proposes that people could start doing things to make it harder to touch their face without thinking, such as “keeping hands in pockets, holding hands together, or folding arms in a 'locked' way”.

He warns: “Creating substitute behaviours and new barrier-forming habits are the most effective way of curbing face-touching. We need to work out the most promising approaches and the best way of communicating them – fast.”

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