Seattle is a city known for its love of animals, and our city government has its part to play. From Kitty Hall to sheltering lost pets, Seattle Animal Shelter provides life-saving services to animals in need across the City. To do this work, Seattle Animal Shelter relies upon revenues from the licensing of domestic pets; mandatory for dogs, cats, pigs and goats kept domestically in the City. However, even accounting for those households that leave Seattle, only around 60% of the 3,000 licenses that expire each month are renewed.
As one element of our data analytics work, we wondered whether behavioral science could help.
Meet Ellum, a licensed cat in Seattle
With support from the Behavioural Insights Team made possible by What Works Cities, the Innovation & Performance team worked with Seattle Animal Shelter to quantify the non-renewal issue, to use behavioral science to redesign licensing renewals, and run a low-cost randomized control trial (“RCT”) to evaluate the impact of these changes.
We redesigned the standard renewal card with the benefit of behavioral science literature. We made it personal by including the name of the licensed pet, we made it compelling by highlighting the critical work of Seattle Animal Shelter, and we made it simpler to renew the license.
In order to test whether the new design had impact, we ran a trial. For two months, we randomly divided licenses due for renewal into two groups and sent the old notice to one group and the new notice to another. This random allocation helps us to be sure that any improvements that we observed with the new notice really were because of the new notice, rather than an outside factor. No new software or mailing was required, and the trial was run at zero cost to Seattle Animal Shelter.
The trial showed that the new reminder notice would deliver real progress on a key operational issue. Analysis of trial results showed a 9% increase in renewal rates among the target group of license holders, and an 11% increase in the proportion of expiring licenses being replaced by longer-term licenses. On this basis, switching to the new design across all expiring licenses would deliver some $650,000 in future licensing revenue to Seattle Animal Shelter and help it to continue its incredibly valuable work.
More broadly, we were excited to help Seattle Animal Shelter unlock insights from its existing licensing database – an exercise that had proved challenging in the past. Our data analytics work is predicated on supporting departments to get more value from existing datasets, and we were delighted to help Seattle Animal Shelter with its important mission.
Those who have pets in the city may recognize the newly designed form! More broadly, we continue to work with departments to bring behavioral science to bear on our communications and to run low-cost experiments. If you have ideas for where we could improve our communications, then let us know!