Dear Department for Work and Pensions,
Recently the following story appeared in the Guardian newspaper;
Jobseekers' psychometric test 'is a failure'
US institute that devised questionnaire tells 'nudge' unit to stop using it as it failed to be scientifically validated
A Job Centre in Glasgow
The 'nudge' unit piloted the psychometric test in Essex despite being refused permission to do so. It has now been rolled out to other areas. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA
An American psychology organisation has told a UK government agency to stop using a personality test on jobseekers because it is a failure.
The Behavioural Insight team, or "nudge" unit, which was created by David Cameron in 2010 to help people "make better choices", has been accused by the Ohio-based VIA Institute on Character of bad practice after civil servants used VIA's personality tests in pilot experiments in Essex despite being refused permission to do so.
David Halpern, head of the government's behavioural insights team Nudge unit boss David Halpern. Photograph: Felix Clay
The £520,000-a-year Cabinet Office unit run by Dr David Halpern was told by VIA – whose members devised the personality test – to stop using the questionnaire because it had failed its scientific validation.
Last week, the Guardian revealed that a single mother of two said she was threatened with having her benefits removed if she didn't complete the "my strengths" character survey. It asked users to give graded answers to questions such as "I never go out of my way to visit museums" and "I have not created anything of beauty in the last year".
Official letters sent to jobseekers by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) stated that the test was "scientifically shown to find people's strengths".
Kelly Aluise, VIA's communications director, said the institute had previously been approached by a civil servant from the nudge team to use a slimmed-down version of its 120- and 240-question "character strengths" survey.
However, she said, the civil servant was refused permission by VIA's education director, Dr Ryan Niemiec.
"They were not allowed to use it," she said.
In correspondence seen by the Guardian, Niemiec said the test was a failure. "They are using the non-validated version … we had tested it a while back and it failed," Niemiec wrote.
In November 2011, the civil servant set up a 48-question version of the test for the Cabinet Office on the website to which jobseekers have been referred to complete the test, which has now been rolled out to other areas of the country.
The Guardian has been informed that complaints against the unit's use of the bogus survey have been lodged with the British Psychological Society and the Health and Care Professions Council, which regulate the practice of registered psychologists.
The DWP confirmed that qualified psychologists – understood to be from the nudge unit – had signed off the project, which was meant to boost confidence and help the unemployed back into work.
Aluise said VIA had asked the Behavioural Insight team to take down its survey and refer jobseekers to their own online version of the questionnaire.
Within hours of the Guardian contacting the Cabinet Office about the issue, the not-for-profit VIA institute, which says it is "dedicated to advancing … evidence-based practices of character strengths", declined to make further comment and said it had resolved its differences with the Behaviourial Insights team.
"Any misunderstandings that may have occurred between VIA and the Behavioural Insights team have been resolved at this point," it said.
The Cabinet Office said the nudge unit – which is being put up for sale – "has a good relationship with VIA, and they are in regular communication".
In response to questions about whether the test was validated, the Cabinet Office backed away from previous written assurances to jobseekers and said the survey was only "based on a scientifically validated questionnaire".
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Friday, Gerry Stoker, professor of politics and governance at the University of Southampton, raised questions about the unit's ethical approval practice.
"What kind of process of ethical intervention have any of these interventions gone through?" he asked.
"When you're deceiving people or potentially … coercing people to be part of something that they don't know they are part of, I think that does raise significant issues."
CAN YOU PLEASE TELL ME;
1/ Why did personality tests go ahead in Essex, despite being given permission to do so?
2/ Who gave the go ahead for Psychometric tests, part of NEURO LINGUISTIC PROGRAMMING, to be used on uk citizens?
3/ How would it make people make "better choices"?
4/ Who was the author of the "My Strengths" character survey that was used on claimants?
5/ What relevance were the questions in the survey, other than mind programming?
6/ Who was the civil servant from the "Nudge Team" who approached VIA to use a slimmed down version?
7/ Why was a non validated version used if the test showed it to be a failure?
8/ Show evidence to support that the test was "scientifically shown to show peoples strengths"?
9/ Have complaints of the surveys improper use been lodged with the British Psychological Society and Health and Care Professions Council?
10/ Has there been any feedback from these organisations?
11/ Who are the qualified psychologists that work for the NUDGE UNIT, who signed off the project?
12/ Why were people being deceived and coerced into something that they had no knowledge of?
13/ How much money has the DWP paid to the NUDGE UNIT?
14/ Could the £520.000 per annum cabinet office be seen as a complete waste of time and money given that it is up for sale?
Dear Operations FOI Requests,
Getting worse, you answered hardly anything i asked.
Numbers 1,2,3,5,6,7,8,11,12 WERE NOT ANSWERED.
EMPHASIS MUST BE ON NUMBER ONE, "Why did the test pilot go ahead in Essex, despite not being given permission to do so?
... and number two, Who gave the go ahead?
Dear Geoffrey Reynolds,
Please find attached DWP response to your recent review request.
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