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Commonwealth Games 2022: How Nudge Theory is Driving Better Hygiene Behaviour

Katy Slater, Regulatory Director, New Growth Platforms at Reckitt, explains how ‘nudge theory’ is boosting hygience confidence at large-scale events, and informing protocols at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.

After two years of the pandemic, a greater understanding of hygiene and the role we collectively play in enhancing hygiene habits to help reduce the spread of germs has emerged. At Reckitt, we’ve always used motivations, effective nudge theory and choice architecture within our hygiene protocols – but their importance has become more apparent than ever in driving positive hygiene behaviour as we begin to readjust to our old ways of living.

Nudge theory can be effective at influencing the likelihood of someone exhibiting a behaviour

One of the most widely used approaches for behavioural change at both individual and societal levels is ‘nudging’, which refers to relatively low-cost behavioural change techniques to influence behaviour and decision making. Nudge theory can be effective at influencing the likelihood of someone exhibiting a behaviour – as seen with the fly experiment carried out by Richard Thaler at Amsterdam Schiphol airport. Thaler and his team discovered that etching a fake fly into the airport urinals improved men’s aim and reduced spillage up by 80 per cent when urinating1 – resulting in an eight per cent reduction in bathroom cleaning costs. Since then, ‘urinal flies’ have begun popping up in bathrooms all over the world.

Effectively deploying nudge theory to bring peace of mind to consumers at events like Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games is a key consideration for ensuring that large-scale events can continue at the same rate they did pre-pandemic. Nudge-based hygiene interventions were also implemented at global climate change summit COP26, and were proven to work – 11 in every 1,000 people in the Scottish population were infected with COVID-19 virus* after the event, but only 2 in every 1,000 people officially affiliated with COP26 tested positive, according to a report from Public Health Scotland (2021)2.


Dettol Pro Solutions was the official hygiene partner for COP26, and has assumed the same role at Birmingham 2022. The team of microbiologists, virologists and scientists will be using similar interventions – including nudge theory – to help everyone involved with or attending the Games enjoy the 286 incredible live sport sessions taking place at venues across Birmingham and West Midlands. Our three top tips for using nudge theory to help influence behaviour change are as follows.

1.      Make the behaviours convenient and hard to avoid

Behaviours are much more likely to be practised if they are convenient or require limited effort. Studies have shown that particular settings can help ‘nudge’ people towards the right behaviour; therefore, making target behaviours the most visible, default or easy option has been demonstrated to be an effective approach to changing a range of public health behaviours and has been used quite widely to promote hand hygiene3.

At Birmingham 2022, over 2,000 posters have been distributed to reinforce good hand hygiene habits in the sink area of each restroom alongside the use of our soaps. People might make the decision whether or not they wash their hands in the cubicles; therefore, messages in the posters should be clear and simple and aim to trigger the desired behaviour. Stickers in the shape of hands with messages prompting attendees to wash their hands will be placed on the back of cubicle doors, so that people are more likely to walk to the basin when they see posters. 

Users should be able to understand from a glance that the posters are suggesting that they wash their hands, and a handwashing facility should be in close proximity to enable them to do so. We’re also using cardboard cutouts to draw visual attention to sanitising stations; incorporating motivational themes such as ‘heroes’ appropriate to the event; and beautiful pictures tied into the theme. We’re also marking frequently touched surfaces (e.g. toilet doors, tables) with stickers as a visual cue.

A key task of any behavioural intervention is to get people’s attention and continue to disrupt the status quo until the ‘new normal’ includes the targeted behaviours.

2.     Make the behaviours normal, socially desirable and rewarding

A key task of any behavioural intervention is to get people’s attention and continue to disrupt the status quo until the ‘new normal’ includes the targeted behaviours. This is because the majority of behaviour happens automatically and is shaped by what has worked well in the past – something known as reinforcement learning4.

The Dettol hygiene kit for staff is being given out at point of uniform distribution or the athlete welcome desk at the Games and provides staff, volunteers, athletes and officials with a face covering, personal hand sanitiser to use when on the move, for example, travelling between hotels and the venue. Hygiene messaging, incorporated onto the box itself encourages the use of the items, again making it as easy as possible to drive positive hygiene behaviours. Positioning handwashing facilities in visible locations and making them socially desirable is another way Dettol is triggering the intention to use the facilities, with regular reminders throughout the venue that actively encourage people to clean hands and disinfect.

3.     Make the behaviours surprising and timely

Protocols at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games are centred around timely and targeted cleaning. Rather than having a static campaign that runs throughout the Games, introducing interventions in a phased manner or regularly changing them over the course of the event makes the campaign and messaging surprising. 

More than 100 ‘talking’ hand sanitiser dispensers have been installed at the Games as an innovative way and a surprising element to remind the crowds of the importance of hygiene behaviour. The dispenser has a voice activation feature that delivers ‘thank you’ messaging to people as they sanitise their hands and also a counter to show how many times the unit has been used.

This principle emphasises the use of interventions that are fun, brightly coloured, and which attract attention. One particular study at a school in Bangladesh found that changes to the infrastructure, brightly coloured paint and footprints that led from the toilet to the handwashing facility resulted in a 70 per cent increase in good hygiene behaviour5. This could be considered hand-in-hand with other appropriate measures, such as encouraging staff and attendees to wash or sanitise their hands at critical times such as upon arrival at the premises.

At the Games, we have a collective responsibility to make sure hygiene measures are in place to help ensure that friends, families and neighbours alike will re-engage confidently in large-scale events to make sure that it is an event to remember.

The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games celebrate human achievement, perseverance and dedication. Reckitt too champions these attributes in its purpose to protect, heal and nurture in the relentless pursuit of a cleaner, healthier world. On a mission to bring hygiene standards to thousands of people attending the Games, Reckitt has also been working with The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to develop a world-leading and bespoke hygiene program.


1 Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. R. (2008). Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. Yale University Press.


3Thaler RH, Sunstein CR. Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness: Yale University Press; 2008.

Hummel D, Maedche A. How effective is nudging? A quantitative review on the effect sizes and limits of empirical nudging studies. Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics. 2019;80:47-58.

Watson J, Dreibelbis R. Using Environmental Nudges to improve handwashing with soap among school children. COVID-19 Hygiene Hub: WASH in Schools Network; 2020.

4Ouellette JA, Wood W. Habit and intention in everyday life: The multiple processes by which past behavior predicts future behavior. Psychological bulletin. 1998

5Watson J, Dreibelbis R. Using Environmental Nudges to improve handwashing with soap among school children. COVID-19 Hygiene Hub: WASH in Schools Network; 2020.

* COVID-19 virus = SARS-CoV-2


CAMFIL HVAC Filtration Solutions

Katy Slater

Katy Slater is the Regulatory Director, New Growth Platforms at Reckitt.
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