Harvard calls Turnbull’s behavioural economics chief back to his post


The Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government will soon be led by an American professor from an Australian university, replacing its current chief, who is an Australian professor at a university in the United States.

Harvard professor Michael Hiscox (pictured) didn’t give up his position when he came home to Australia to set up and run the Prime Minister’s nudge unit in 2016, and now he is going back to his post in Boston for six months.

He will be replaced by University of Sydney economics professor Robert Slonim, a pioneer of experimental economics who came to Sydney from the US in 2008.

Robert Slonim

Slonim was the keynote speaker at a behavioural economics workshop hosted by BETA last November. He co-edits the Journal of the Economic Science Association and sits on the editorial advisory board of the Journal of Risk and Uncertainty.

According to a statement from BETA, the changeover represents an expansion of the team’s “research capability and academic linkages” after Hiscox got it off to a strong start:

Under his leadership, BETA has collaborated with 19 partner agencies to deliver a range of projects across government, with a strong focus on building capability and testing what works. He leaves the team well positioned to commence work on a new set of projects and we are looking forward to a dynamic and busy period ahead.

The agency’s most recent work on unconscious bias suggested that a lot of public servants practice “positive discrimination” in the first stage of recruitment by favouring women and candidates from minority groups — or at the very least, they think they should.

Removing the names and other identifying markers from resumes before they are shortlisted, also known as blind recruitment, appeared to reduce the effect. This led BETA to advise agencies that blind recruiting practices might hinder their efforts to increase the representation of groups like women and Indigenous Australians in their workforces.

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