Bridget Gildea is a consultant working at the nexus between technology, behavioural insights (BI) and public policy, including applying behavioural science approaches to learning and skills and knowledge acquisition, thinking about the future of work and social justice, and creating international higher education partnerships.
Recent projects have included working with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on its policy work, the European Climate Foundation on applying behavioural science to its climate initiatives, and with Cambridge, designing projects e.g. on data orchestration models in cities’ response to Covid-19 to help better support their most vulnerable citizens.
Previously as the Director, Programme Development at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, she founded policy executive education programmes, including the world’s first exec ed programme teaching behavioural insights in public policy. She also created partnerships with the MacArthur Foundation, for a programme on BI and corruption control in Nigeria; with the Robert Bosch Stiftung in Berlin for a programme at Harvard for Members of the Bundestag, and a 5-year partnership with the National School of Government in Brazil.
Previously she had several roles and careers including at the BBC, the British Film Commission, and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office US Network.
What are you working on now?
One project I am particularly excited about is applying the framework, thinking and methodology of behavioural insights and BI interventions in technical skills and knowledge acquisition through online programmes for an edtech company in the US.
It’s especially interesting as I had the privilege to work with the Behavioural Insights Team’s US office on applying BI in the programmes we co-created at Harvard, but this new project is also about testing out some additional elements in creating a continuous learning culture necessary for the future of work, upskilling newly-migrated populations who have challenges around entering the job markets in the US and Europe; how BI works in the context of continuing and executive education and rethinking curriculum development processes and methodology in a lean/start up/agile environment.
How has your career to date led to this?
I love questions like this, especially in the context of women in leadership, because it gives me the opportunity to say: kind of exactly the opposite way than what a lot of received wisdom in think pieces on LinkedIn and in the HBR say it should! I think it’s really important to know that it can happen in these more unconventional or even ostensibly haphazard ways, especially for women at the beginning of building their careers as there’s so much restrictive and reductive advice around which is in my experience both really difficult and quite boring to try to follow.
The short answer is I went from film and TV production into a film quango with transatlantic/internationalist focus, and from there I went to the States and led a higher education policy portfolio for the FCO US Network, and from there was asked to join Harvard Kennedy School of Government to create learning programmes for public policy practitioners from my perspective as a practitioner myself. At HKS, I learned an entirely new field of behavioural science, as well as digital transformation and innovation in Government, and curriculum creation – all of which I do now.
What one thing would you most want someone to learn from what you’ve done or are doing now?
Appropriately for someone who thinks a lot about learning, the core important element I’d like more people to think about is the importance of prioritising self-directed and ongoing learning as we look to the future. It’s clear that, as we move forwards, the future of work is going to be deeply connected to our continuous ability to learn and gain new skills in an increasingly flexible way at a quicker pace.
Additionally, I think some key elements of social justice, and work to create a more equitable society, is very much linked to upskilling, reskilling, and learning for us all. How we approach this from a policy and programmatic perspective really matters. Often programmes are created (whether policy or educational) without working extensively with the users and learners of those programmes themselves to design the most effective pedagogy and content for them.
So I think our ability to learn about and pay attention to how different people learn is going to be critical in the next few years on a societal level. This is one of the reasons why I’m particularly interested in user-focused design flowing out of a behavioural science framework for creating learning programmes, for their potential to be a multiplier to effect change as well as help people learn important stuff.
What do you think of Jesus College and the Intellectual Forum?
I’m excited to join the Intellectual Forum; both its approach to multidisciplinary thinking and its roster of fascinating events has been great to experience online and I’m very much looking forward to attending in person once we can restart that way of convening.