At SBC, it’s not just our agency and learning directors who are behavioural scientists. Account manager Shane Donnellan has a background in clinical psychology and using behavioural insights to help public sector clients from governments to housing associations. Let’s meet him….
Let’s get the important stuff out of the way first, Shane. Who or what should go in Room 101?
Ooh… the waiting before catching a flight at an airport. All that wasted time where you’re herded around like cattle. That could definitely go in.
Exactly the kind of environment where behavioural science might help make things easier or more pleasurable for people….
For sure: behavioural science can change people’s behaviours, choices, habits – even their perceptions, everything in the round. It can really mobilise people.
What first sparked your interest in behavioural science?
I studied psychology and worked for several years in clinical therapeutic settings. Then I took a Master’s in Human Factors at Heriot-Watt university in Edinburgh. From there, I moved toward applied behavioural science. I see myself as someone who very much works in the psychological and behavioural area, drawing on aspects of cognitive psychology, behavioural science and communications.
Some people think behavioural science is a means of control.
Behavioural science can support everything from inclusivity and diversity initiatives to governmental policymaking and organisational psychology. Like any field of expertise, it can be abused. There’s an obligation on anyone practicing behavioural science to use it ethically.
But use it in the right way, and it works wonders. It’s important to remember though that behavioural science is just one tool in our arsenal. It was never intended to be completely standalone; rather it complements engagement and communications.
What’s one of the most important things you’ve learnt from your practice?
We’re all fallible – as individuals and as groups. The same premise as to why someone might be unwell in a clinical setting also translates to the working environment and society as a whole. It boils down to psychology and how we are all human: people fascinate me.
Behavioural science can help make sense of behaviour, because it gives you a bird’s eye view of how the human mind works. It can help someone see they are not an anomaly: actually, we’re all a bit irrational!
What other skills do you bring to the team at SBC?
I’ve been managing projects for several years for a lot of different clients and that experience feeds into what I do as an account manager. The account management team interprets what our clients are asking for and delivers to ensure they are happy.
Ultimately, what we do comes down to understanding people, so that suits me down to the ground. You might have a particular persona in mind for a client, supplier or partner and that changes once you get to know the people involved, so I can bring all my experience of working with individuals to bear. That also applies to our team: it’s very close-knit, which means building relationships is important.
What do you find most exciting about working here?
You know that what you do every day has an impact. In the public sector, it can take a very long time for projects to come to fruition, or they might not see the light of day at all, which can be a little demoralising. We have a landscape that is constantly changing and is a little more fast-moving than the public sector, which I love.
What do you like to do to unwind?
I love cooking and running. I am currently training for a marathon, and I run for a club at home in Edinburgh. Cooking is how I decompress, and I love trying new recipes. I’m aware that this all sounds very wholesome, but I also love going to the pub and socialising!
I love football, too. I’m a Leeds fan, which runs in the family. There was no other option.
What are your long-term aspirations at SBC?
I want to crack the nut in terms of getting people to realise the potential of behavioural science. They don’t always see the value of it, and I want to change that – because behavioural science opens up a world of possibilities for our clients.