In our continued “Meet the Team” series, we introduce Emma Neville, Senior Behavioural Science Analyst, who tells us about her experiences as a key member of our team of behaviour change experts (HRW Shift); being mistaken for a mind-reader; and whiling away lockdown spinning on her skates in Hyde Park…


Give us a little introduction and tell us where you were before HRW…

Before HRW, I was very much immersed in behavioural science and psychology, but more so from an academic perspective:  studying and working as a research psychologist; running qualitative health research in public health; working at the department of social psychology at my uni.

I also had some really formative internships in commercial behavioural science consultancy, such as working at Proctor and Gamble on some exciting projects on the psychology of packaging, and how visuals on products can make a difference in the context of supermarket shopping.

These experiences were all influential in working out where I wanted to sit – in a space combining healthcare, consulting, and psychology!


What were your expectations about the role, and market research in general, before you started?

I was new to market research, so one of my main fears was how I would pick up this side of the role and ‘translate’ the academic detail in commercial contexts. Happily, I got a lot of support on this and had plenty of opportunity to immerse myself in the world of MR and to get up to speed on how academic theory can be brought to life in a healthcare market research context.

That said, I was impressed by the academic standard of the behavioural science work we do here at HRW: I think the team have struck the right balance of staying true to the academic theory, but also distilling this down and pulling the applications out in a commercial context. I have to say my expectations were exceeded on this front!


What do you now enjoy the most about your role on the Shift Team at HRW?

Being totally honest, compared to my peers and friends, I have the coolest job! Basically, I get to think about questions that I’d be thinking about anyway: questions like ‘why people do the things they do?’ or ‘what does it means to negotiate your own mortality in decision making?’… The questions that really excite me are the bread and butter of my day-to-day working life. I think it’s rare to find a job that allows you to engage with existential questions and get paid for it!

Also, I get the opportunity to consult on a wide variety range of projects, from patient work to physician work to payer work, in a huge number of therapy areas, and using a massive range of methodologies. Sitting where the Shift Team do within HRW, I get such a broad view on the horizons of MR. It is particularly rewarding to do that in HRW as we pride ourselves on innovation, so I can see some of the most cutting-edge methodologies in action and contribute to the results.


What are the most common misconceptions about your work that you have to dispel?

One of the misconceptions (that I find funny) is that behavioural scientists are fortune-tellers or mind-readers! We’ll introduce ourselves, and people will ask “can you tell what I’m thinking?”.It’s also not uncommon to be asked for life advice. People misunderstand and can confuse us with psychoanalysis or counsellors – this is a bit more distant from the reality of behavioural science and how we use it.

Another area of skepticism is in how actionable behavioural insights can be. Most people recognise how the tools of behavioural science help us deepen our understanding of the problem but many miss the most important step, which is about what to do next. It’s a nice experience when we start a project with a client who is unsure how the analytical “black box” of behavioural science will produce actionable guidance for them – and we can impress them with how tangible and impactful our solutions are.


What are you most proud of amongst your accomplishments at HRW to date?

I am most proud of the award-winning patient research I’ve been involved with. We’ve used a behavioural science lens in several therapy areas to clarify the behaviours seen in patients that clients consider contradictory: such as a project where patients have reported that that they need more information to feel empowered in conversations with HCPs- but when provided with this information, there is low uptake. This is the Ostrich Effect: tour instinct to bury our heads in the sand in response to scary or unpleasant information that leads to a negative emotion. We were able to give very specific advice on how to adjust the tone, language and framing of patient communications to avoid triggering a fear response and get the information across in a sensitive way. Using behaviour science in in-depth patient work like this has a big impact on furthering client’s emotional understanding, resolving mysteries, and improving the patient experience.

It’s also very rewarding to be involved with the (many) award-wining projects in which Shift has played a role.


What would you like to focus on more in the future? How do you see the Shift team evolving?

I am excited to look at how we can apply more linguistic analysis in our work. The behavioural science umbrella covers many disciplines, including linguistics,psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics.

I personally have a background in discourse analysis in my academic past which is all about looking at language at social level, to identify the language patients and HCPs are using to understand the world, and ultimately how to resonate with audiences in the language we use. I see great potential in the use of these kinds of tools for message or campaign testing, and I’m excited to do more of this in the next year: deepening my skills in this area to operationalise these tools in our Shift offering.

I also hope to see the Shift team continue to grow in numbers, and generally become even more prolific! My favourite thing about the Shift team is the variety in the range of disciplines and specialisms we represent. So,whenever someone new comes on board, we all learn so much from hearing about their particular areas of expertise. I get nerdily excited by how it expands our horizons and the range of tools we can apply.


What advice would you give to someone interested in your role?

My advice would be firstly to immerse yourself in as many projects as possible in the first month and explore a wide range of project types. Secondly: I would encourage you to have faith on your own expertise – we are not just looking for clones of our current team members, but are keen to hear about areas of behavioural science we might not know a lot about within the team currently. It’s not about conforming to what is here, but thinking about how new expertise can complement and stretch the way we do things- getting these new nuggets of expertise and disciplines is what excites us!


What do you get up to when you’re not doing Shifty business?

I was in a Roller Derby team in Cambridge for several years and have been getting back into it after a bit of a hiatus. During lockdown, I’ve been playing around with more “artistic” roller skating styles; working on my spins and even coaching some friends in Hyde Park. I am also involved in various types of activism, participating in protests and getting involved with advocacy groups – which extends to my role in the Social Justice team at HRW.


By Emma Neville

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