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Behavioural Public Policy Seminars

Online Behavioural Public Policy seminars are offered to International Behavioural Public Policy Association (IBPPA) members. (Note that the annual IBBPA membership fee is £20 and offers a range of benefits.)

The distinguished speakers discuss prominent behavioural public policy themes for the first 15 minutes of each seminar, and this is followed by a 40-minute Q&A discussion with the audience. All seminars are held from 1-2 pm (London time). To become part of the group, please join the IBPPA.

Please join the IBPPA by visiting the IBPPA website.


Please see below the programme for the 2023-24 LSE Hayek Programme - Department of Social Policy Joint BPP seminar series.

Behavioural Public Policy Seminar 9

A debrief and the future of the BPP seminar series, by Adam Oliver

Date: 13 June 2024

Behavioural Public Policy Seminar 8 by Jan Michael Bauer

Date: 23 May 2024

They will be discussed empirical aspects when contrasting work related to the justification of nudges with work focusing on removing sludge. Particularly when both concepts are considered as two sides of the same coin - alterations in the choice architecture that can either benefit or harm consumers - there is a conceptual symmetry accompanied by an empirical asymmetry regarding the required evidence to implement mirroring behavioural interventions. Effective sludge can be much easier discovered than shown to be harmful. Given the extensive use of sludge particularly in digital environments an excessively cautious approach to counter-nudging could become increasingly detrimental to consumers.

Behavioural Public Policy Seminar 7

Regulating against unfair trading practices directed at 'behavioural' consumers, by Bob Sugden

Date: 18 April 2024

There is growing public concern about the multiplication of allegedly unfair trading practices (e.g. 'bill shock', 'loyalty penalties', obstacles to the cancellation of contracts). Many of these practices are ineffective against savvy (neoclassically rational) consumers and, in competitive markets, benefit savvies at the expense of naive consumers. How should regulators respond to these practices? Bruce Lyons and I argue that there is a mismatch between (i) the moral perspective in which trading practices are viewed as unfair and (ii) the normative principles on which both neoclassical and behavioural welfare analyses are based. This mismatch is an obstacle to the design of coherent regulatory responses.

Our paper proposes a criterion of transactional fairness that is compatible with the politically neutral objectives of regulatory agencies and doesn't require regulators to make judgements about consumers' 'true' preferences. But the object of the seminar is not to dissect this specific proposal; it is to discuss the general problem of specifying principles for the regulation of unfair trading practices.

View the seminar recording on YouTube

Behavioural Public Policy Seminar 6

Behavioural Lessons for Conflict of Interest Regulation?, by Anne-Lise Sibony

Date: 21 March 2024

In the early 2000s, the Enron auditing scandal focused the attention of behavioural science scholars on conflicts of interest. Since then, behavioural ethics scholarship has investigated the psychology of conflicts of interest and pointed to interventions such as ethical nudges to alleviate the effects of ethical blind spots. But has regulation learned any lessons? And are the lessons for regulators?

The (EU) Digital Services Act offers an example of a recent regulatory scheme for audits of very large online platforms. Taking it as a starting point, the presentation will focus on how best to study the law's convergence, divergence, or ignorance of behavioural insights. The aim is not to offer an in-depth analysis of DSA's conflict of interest provisions (this will be done elsewhere). It is to invite a discussion on questions to ask when confronting behavioural insights and the law. The example will serve to flag some challenges linked to the granularity gap between behavioural findings and legal rules.

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Behavioural Public Policy Seminar 5

Reconciling Law and Behavioural Public Policy: Optimizing the Interplay of Trust, Regulation, Ethics, and Compliance, by Yuval Feldman

Date: 22 February 2024

Yuval will explore the vital and complex relationship between legal and behavioural approaches to public policy. Drawing on both his own research and the work of others, Yuval will propose a framework for optimizing the interplay between these seemingly disparate approaches. The analysis will delve into how concepts within legal and regulatory theory can be effectively integrated with the policy tools developed in behavioural public policy.

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Behavioural Public Policy Seminar 4

Gigerenzer's view of rationality and human decision-making, by Paul Frijters

Date: 25 January 2024

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Behavioural Public Policy Seminar 3

Behavioural Science and the Causal Revolution based on his article, Harnessing Heterogeneity in Behavioural Research Using Computational Social Science, by Giuseppe Veltri

Similarly to other domains of the social sciences, behavioural science has grappled with a crisis concerning the effect sizes of research findings. Different solutions have been provided to answer this challenge. This paper will discuss analytical strategies developed in the context of computational social science, namely causal tree and forest, that will benefit behavioural scientists in harnessing heterogeneity of treatment effects in RCTs. As a mixture of theoretical and data-driven approaches, these techniques are well suited to exploit the rich information provided by large studies conducted using RCTs. We discuss the characteristics of these methods and their methodological rationale and provide simulations to illustrate their use. We simulate two scenarios of RCTs-generated data and explore the heterogeneity of treatment effects using causal tree and causal forest methods. Furthermore, we outlined a potential theoretical use of these techniques to enrich behavioural science ecological validity by introducing the notion of behavioural niche.

Date: 14 December 2023

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Behavioural Public Policy Seminar 2

Time and Poverty, by Daniel Read

Poor people generally discount future outcomes more than do wealthier ones. Daniel Read will discuss explanations for this and consider how it relates to any attempts we might make to encourage poorer people to be more patient.

Date: 23 November 2023

Behavioural Public Policy Seminar 1

Why I am A Liberal, by Cass Sunstein

Date: 19 October 2023

Liberals see human beings as subjects, not objects. They reject despotism in its many forms. Liberal authoritarianism is an oxymoron. Illiberal democracy is illiberal, and liberals oppose it for that reason. Liberals are puzzled by many of those, on the left and the right, who describe themselves as "antiliberal" or "postliberal". With respect to some claims of "antiliberals" or "postliberals", liberals agree with Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman: "A refutation of a caricature can be no more than a caricature of a refutation." They think that some "antiliberals" or "postliberals" caricature "liberalism", and attribute an assemblage of social ills to "liberalism", when the claimed causal connection is groundless or preposterous. With respect to those claims of "antiliberals" or "postliberals" that do not amount to a caricature, liberals insist on the importance of freedom of thought and action and deliberative democracy, and on the need to respect reasonable pluralism. With Justice Robert Jackson, liberals believe that "compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard".

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Attending these talks is included in the yearly membership of the Internationa Behavioural Public Policy Association (membership cost is £20).


Behavioural Public Policy Seminar 10 by Malte Dold: Individual Agency in Behavioral Public Policy: New Knowledge Problems

Date: 22 June 2023

A number of authors have recently begun to argue for agency-enhancing interventions in BPP, such as assistive curing and boosts. Unlike nudges that re-bias people, these psychologically informed policy interventions aim at de-biasing people by enhancing their reasoning capacities. The agency-centric approach to BPP is laudable from a methodological perspective since it addresses the intricacies of context-dependent preferences. It is also laudable from a normative perspective since it takes the liberal idea of individual self-determination seriously. Yet, it creates 'new' knowledge problems that have not yet been sufficiently addressed in the literature. This article argues that the epistemic challenge of an agency-centric BPP stems from, among other things, (a) its commitment to algorithmic analysis that models actual decision-making processes (in contrast to a reliance on algebraic analysis and as-if models) and (b) the difficulty to differentiate motivational from epistemic concerns that would allow the analyst to identify reasoning failures. This article discusses these challenges and ultimately defends a psychologically grounded agency-oriented approach to BPP that highlights the value of autonomy, i.e., people’s capacity to scrutinize, act on, and identify with their evolving preferences. Such an approach attenuates some of the epistemic problems by shifting the policy focus from process facilitation and situational choice architecture toward institutional analysis.

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Behavioural Public Policy Seminar 9 by Sanchayan Banerjee: It's time we put agency into behavioural public policy

Date: 18 May 2023

Promoting agency - people's ability to form intentions and to act on them freely - must become a primary objective for behavioural public policy (BPP). Contemporary BPPs do not directly pursue this objective directly, which is problematic for many reasons. From an ethical perspective, goals like personal autonomy and individual freedom cannot be realised without nurturing citizens' agency. From an efficacy standpoint, BPPs that override agency - for example by activating automatic psychological processes - leave citizens 'in the dark', incapable of internalising and owning the process of behaviour change. This may contribute to non-persistent treatment effects, compensatory negative spillovers or psychological reactance and backfiring effects. In this paper, we argue agency-enhancing BPPs can alleviate these ethical and efficacy limitations to longer-lasting and meaningful behaviour change. We set out philosophical arguments to help us understand and conceptualise agency. Then, we review three alternative agency-enhancing behavioural frameworks, namely boosts, debiasing and nudge+. Using a multi-dimensional framework, we highlight differences in their workings, which offer comparative insights and complementarities in their use. We discuss limitations of agency enhancing BPPs and map out future research directions.

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Behavioural Public Policy Seminar 8 by Lis Costa: Behavioural Markets and Regulation

Date: 20 April 2023

Regulators worldwide have made strides over the past decade to embed behavioural science and experimentation to drive better outcomes for consumers and to foster competitive markets. To date, this has mainly focused on designing and testing remedies focused on individual consumers, for example by improving the quality or timeliness of disclosures. There is an opportunity to do more on two fronts. First, using regulation to create an enabling environment. In particular by shaping consumers' economic and digital 'choice environment', making particular behaviours easier, more available, cheaper, more socially acceptable, more timely or the default choice. Second, moving 'upstream' to shape systems and markets in line with collective goals. For example, by incentivising and regulating businesses and other organisations in ways that create the best possible choice environments for individuals.

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Behavioural Public Policy Seminar 7 by Pete Lunn: But Does it Work in Theory? A Practitioners' Perspective on Current Debates in Behavioural Public Policy

Date: 16 March 2023

We offer a perspective on two ongoing debates in behavioural public policy: the merits of nudging (versus other approaches) and whether behavioural science should be applied to policy at the level of the individual or the system (i-frame versus s-frame). Our perspective comes from ten years of running Ireland's Behavioural Research Unit, where we have undertaken more than 80 studies for state agencies and government departments, across many different policy problems. On the first issue, we argue that a blanket preference for one type of intervention over another is unhelpful when applying behavioural science to policy. Our work instead aims to identify explicit and transparent criteria for improving people's decisions, generally via diagnostic research specific to the policy context. This diagnostic work may provide evidence to support soft interventions that can be pre-tested (including nudges, boosts and traditional information provision), or orthodox economic policies of regulation or taxation. A prior preference for policy type does not help to solve the policy problem. On the second issue, our experience leaves us sympathetic to the view that some major policy problems require behavioural scientists to operate at the system-level. In areas like climate change and obesity, we increasingly work on public engagement and understanding rather than designing individual-level interventions likely to have only marginal effects. Nevertheless, sometimes i-frame studies help individuals to do better within a system.

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Behavioural Public Policy Seminar 6 by Daniel Read: Tainted Nudge? The challenge of combining doing well with doing good

Date: 16 February 2023

The seminar will be based around the general challenge of how people evaluate activities that do good for society, but also earn a profit for the actor. There is some research suggesting that altruistic acts can be heavily "tainted" by the presence of additional selfish or profit motives. In the work discussed -- itself part of a larger project -- we look at whether this tainting applies to organisational nudges. We also consider when and why such tainting might occur.

Read the paper here

Behavioural Public Policy Seminar 5 by Avishalom Tor: When Should Government Invest More in Nudging? Revisiting Benartzi et al (2017)

Date: 9 February 2023

View the seminar recording on YouTube

Behavioural Public Policy Seminar 4 by Gerd Gigerenzer: From Bounded Rationality to Ecological Rationality

Date: 19 January 2023

View the seminar recording on YouTube

Behavioural Public Policy Seminar 3 by Cass Sunstein: TBC

Date: 15 December 2022

Behavioural Public Policy Seminar 2 by Rory Sutherland: TBC

Date: 17 November 2022

Behavioural Public Policy Seminar 1 by Paul Frijters: TBC

Date: 13 October 2022