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Home Features The Coach The OECD’s six principles for spreading behavioural insights across government
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TAGS OECD, Behavioural insights, nudge, behavioural economics, behavioural science
Public sector decision making and regulated organisations are the next frontiers of behavioural economics, says the OECD. Its new report, featuring over 100 case studies, contains a guide to using BI in new ways.
Behavioural insights is not merely a trend — it has the potential to improve how governments work across many areas.
But while it is increasingly being used by policymakers across the world, BI is still mainly being applied in only a few of its potential guises. The most common are policy tweaks targeted towards influencing individual citizens, typically when they are making financial, health and safety or consumer decisions.
The next frontier is applying behavioural insights to regulated organisations and even government itself, argues a new report from the OECD. The report is based on surveys with 60 public bodies in 23 countries and two international organisations, and is the first big comparative survey of behavioural insights units around the world.
“Soft” incentives nudging public servants towards coordinating with other departments could assist in achieving whole-of-government goals such as increasing diversity or good regulatory practice, for example.
Applying it to regulation could also increase compliance in some areas better than a purely prescriptive approach, the report argues, though this has not been properly tested yet. Capital markets and banks, energy consumption for large firms, transport used by big business are all potential targets, the OECD suggests.
Applying behavioural insights earlier in the policy cycle has the potential to bring new gains too. At present BI tends to be introduced fairly late in the process, typically during the implementation phase, to fine tune a pre-decided policy. Incorporating it during ex post evaluation and from the start of policy design to provide evidence on where rational actor and perfect information assumptions might fail can help help governments attain their policy goals and reduce the likelihood of needing to go back and fix initiatives that are not working.
The report includes more than 110 case studies, covering issues related to consumer protection, education, energy, environment, finance, health and safety, labour markets, public service delivery, taxes and telecommunications. The three-page case studies include an HIV risk education game in South Africa, a Canadian trial using air miles to tackle obesity, and a British experiment using reminders to encourage consumers to check whether their insurance premium was too high.
The report boils down the lessons from these cases into six principles for the use of behavioural insights in public policy.
Apart from recommending application of behavioural insights to the rules and practices governing public service agencies and influencing regulated organisations, the report suggests policy makers:
David Donaldson is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Melbourne. He's previously written for The Guardian and Crikey and holds a masters in international relations.
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