The behavioural economics unit of the federal government has launched a free online course for public sector workers to help them make better policy decisions.
The Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government (BETA) is tasked with helping policymakers put human decision-making at the centre of government direction.
The team, which sits under the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, this week launched a “4D framework” that will encourage public servants to follow four stages — discover, diagnose, design and deliver — when working on projects.
The first stage encourages workers to define the behaviour aspects of the project and develop a behaviour problem statement.
The Department of Health and BETA used the model to help reduce the prescription of unnecessary antibiotics by GPs in 2017, the tutorial says.
The next stages require project workers to diagnose the behaviour that needs to change and where they can intervene to alter it, then to design an intervention and an evaluation to test it.
The final stage involves delivering the change with a test group, making refinements and implementing it broadly while analysing how effective the change was. The tutorial encourages making the results public so others can learn from it.
The government announced it would establish the behavioural economics team in 2015, and it has since also delivered a ‘behavioural insights for public policy’ eLearn course.
Professor Michael Hiscox, a founding director of BETA, explains in that course that economic theory has become more complicated in the past three decades to put human thinking at its centre.
“In traditional economics, we have a very simple model of the human we assume individuals make choices about what is financially attractive to them,” Hiscox says.
“Unfortunately this model has not been terrific around predicting behaviour and not fool-proof in terms of designing effective policy.”
The BETA program aims to consider the complexity in human decision making as applied to public policy.
“We are not rational selfish robots. We are complicated humans, we do make mistakes and we do take shortcuts,” Hiscox says.
“[This] often lead[s] us to make suboptimal decisions, certainly decisions that a rational robot wouldn’t.”
The department says the course takes about an hour to complete and can be accessed online.