Rebuild the social contract with residents, by ending library fines.
Making big changes to public services in Surrey will rely on building a new relationship between the citizen and the state. This project will help us test how we can remove uneccessary financial contracts between the council and residents, replacing them with social contracts that are built on honesty and a shared set of social norms.
Research by behavioural economists suggests that having a system of fines creates a financial contract between the parties. The question in the 'customer's' mind subconsciously shifts from 'should I do...' to 'what's the economic cost to me of...' - which means that rather than be guided by a set of shared values and social norms, decisions are taken based on affordability and cost. With the late book this means someone thinks less about who they're inconveniencing and more about whether they're willing to take the fine. I think the research suggests there could be lots of things that would benefit from the removal of fines and penalties, but we should test it first.
I propose we build an experimental research design based around a few of Surrey's libraries. Using a control group to test the effectiveness, we could introduce variations of the 'fines and penalty free' libraries - each with different communication and social-norm based messaging - and see what the impact is on late returns.
Ending library fines won't make huge savings for the council, but it might point the way in how we could transform the relationship with residents and build social capital to help tackle bigger issues in the future.