A proposal delivered to the policy unit at 10 Downing Street

This proposal came from a lengthy discussion with Daniel Korski, deputy head of policy at 10 Downing Street and special advisor to the Prime Minister, David Cameron. It was delivered to the policy unit at 10 Downing Street in early 2016.

 

A New Approach To Policy: 
How Experientialism Can Tackle Key Problems

 

Summary

The insights in Stuffocation (London: Penguin, 2015) suggest a compelling new approach to policy that can effectively and efficiently tackle policy issues in the UK.

This new approach is based on: 

  • the insight that British society is moving from materialism to “experientialism” — instead of looking for happiness, identity, status and meaning by accumulating material goods, people are increasingly interested in experiential goods instead; 
  • the research which shows that spending — time, energy and money — on experiential goods is better for wellbeing than spending on material goods, both for individuals and for society.

To address the problems in housing, we propose using an experiential approach to encourage people in under-occupied large homes to move into smaller, smarter homes. This will free up housing space for those currently in over-occupied homes. 

Background

While millions live in overcrowded homes, millions of others live in under-occupied ones: 50% of households in England and Wales are under-occupiers. With the right encouragement, many may move to smaller homes. Of under-occupied homes, 33% are owned by empty-nesters (there are 3.7 million empty nesters in the UK). And while more than 50% of people aged 65+ are under-occupiers, more than a third of those aged 60+ are interested in downsizing. 

Our aim is to use an experiential approach to show people in under-occupied homes that “living smart and small” is better — for health, happiness, status — than “living large”. By doing so, we will encourage them to move and therefore free up housing stock for those in overcrowded homes.

We will evaluate success, above all, by one key measure: at the end of the intervention, each participating household will be asked “would you go back to your large home?” If 10% of people opt to remain in their small home, or make active steps to move from a large to small home, we will move to the consequent phases, up to national roll out.

Proposal

  • Participants: 
  • Select people in the 55-65-year-old “empty nesters” cohort to take part.
  • Select a location for the trial, eg, Bristol.
  • Intervention: 
  • Each household will move from a large home into a smaller home.
  • Each smaller home will be inspired by the “small house movement”, such as the “tiny homes” at Tony Hsieh's trailer park in Las Vegas. Each will be circa 420-square-feet, which is 80% of the average new one-bedroom flat in the UK, and will cost circa £25,000 to build. 
  • Each household to rent their home during the study; option to return at end.
  • Scope: 
  • The study will begin with the minimum number of participants and length of time to provide enough evidence to continue or stop the experiment. 
  • Measurement: 
  • Each participant's wellbeing will be measured over the period of the study: 
  • (1) by asking participants who downsized whether they miss their old house/regret it/would recommend to others
  • (2) using the ONS' four subjective wellbeing questions (life satisfaction, worthwhile, happy and anxious).
  • Each household will diarise their time and share their experience, in order to leverage “network nudges”, create new social norms, and generate positive PR (possibly in partnership with a media company).
  • Partners, timelines
  • Proposed partners include Greg Wilkinson to assist with project-management and intervention design; BIT to assist with trial design to ensure it provides actionable measurements; the Treasury to provide funds.
  • To start work on this in Q1 2016; to start the intervention in Q2 2016.

Next steps

The next step would be to hone these proposals, which are currently at an early stage of development.

This proposal will require multiple partners and more time to plan and implement; for example, identifying a location for the tiny homes would take some time. However, it has the potential to create positive PR and kickstart a public debate around the question “how much room, and how many rooms, do we need to live?”

Given the Future Is Here's deep understanding of experientialism, we believe we are well placed to lead these interventions. However, this proposal requires partners. Hence, we would like the Downing Street Policy Unit’s support and assistance to identify: the best partners to develop the design of the interventions and trials (eg, the Behavioural Insights Team); the most appropriate sources of finance (eg, the Treasury and/or the Centre for Ageing Better); any further relevant partners (eg, DCLG, the What Works Network, media, technology and construction partners).

Our intention is to champion and project-manage these trials in partnership with Greg Wilkinson, who, inter alia, was interim chief executive for the Centre for Better Ageing, and whose input has been invaluable in formulating these proposals.
 
Subject to success with the interventions in this document, we propose we trial “experiential approaches” for other key policy issues, including: wellbeing, consumer over-indebtedness, inequality, employment, growth, productivity, obesity, education, the environment, immigration, social cohesion.