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Behavioural Insights in Policy and Practice

Behavioural insights is the science of how people make decisions. Although people make reasonable and considered decisions most of the time, research shows that we can be highly open to suggestion, influences, as well as our own biases and lapses in judgement, which can make effective decision making difficult despite our very best efforts.

Behavioural insights recognises this, and uses research in psychology, social anthropology and behavioural economics to help build an evidence base for effective public policy, service design and delivery.

By focusing on the social, cognitive and emotional behaviours of individuals and institutions, even subtle changes to the way decisions are framed and conveyed can have big impacts on behaviour.

Exploring the issue

Governments and public sector bodies are increasingly drawing on behavioural insights to enhance policy interventions and make them more effective

The most infamous example is the nudge, in which seemingly insignificant and subtle changes to how a choice is framed results in markedly different decisions, and therefore, outcomes.

By studying levers like nudges, the public sector can see the value in accounting for human behaviour in the design and delivery of policy.

A behavioural insights lens helps us consider how people really behave in everyday life, and understand the factors which influence and shape our decision making. Blending insights from psychology, social anthropology and behavioural economics into how the public sector designs and develop policy and practice is essential in improving the effectiveness of our interventions and enabling innovation.

Testing out what works

Central to behavioural insights is the principle of testing. Where possible, public policy should be supported by robust evidence.

If the aim in the public sector innovation and reform is to improve the effectiveness of policy and practice, then we need to translate the theory, build interventions, and then rigorously test those out. There are many ways in which practitioners do this; the aim of the Victorian Behavioural Insights unit is to determine the impact in the most rigorous way possible. Where possible, behavioural insights practitioners use Randomised Control Trials (RCTs) which compare the effectiveness of trialled intervention(s) against what would have happened if nothing had changed.

This iterative approach allows practitioners to understand what works and what doesn't, and take forward the most effective interventions.

An additional tool

Behavioural insights cannot fully replace good policy making based on reasoning, experience and consultation.

Behavioural insights is a valuable addition to policy maker’s toolkits. The public sector faces increasingly complex challenges. Behavioural insights has the potential to help policy makers address these challenges by surfacing new insights, broadening the tools at our disposal, and improving the outcomes for all Victorians.

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