Public Policy and Administration Panel 2: Behavioural Public Policy and Administration: The Next Level

Room E, City Hall
Time Slot: 
Monday 26th March 16:15 - 17:45
Panel Chair: 
  • Professor Oliver James
Panel Members: 
  • Jan Pollex (University of Osnabrueck)
  • Miss Moira Nicolson (Ofgem)
  • Dr Michael Jankowski (University of Oldenburg)
  • Dr Denilson Coelho (University of Brasilia)
  • Miss Ellen Fobe (KU Leuven Public Governance Institute)

This panel draws together contributions which examine and combine the state of the art and perspectives on behavioural public policy (BPP) and behavioural public administration (BPA). We particularly invite papers that explore recent innovations in these fields and how they can mutually inform and complement each other.

Recent years have witnessed a “behavioural turn” in the fields of public policy and public administration. This turn is characterised by a focus on the psychological and motivational processes that explain how individuals implementing or addressed by public policy respond and behave. Behavioural perspectives improve our understanding of the micro-mechanisms that link public interventions with the behavioural change they intend to achieve (Alemanno and Sibony 2015; John 2016; Moseley and Stoker 2013; Oliver 2015; Schneider and Ingram 1990; Shafir 2013; Van der Heidjen and Kosters 2015). Clearly, these perspectives are becoming increasingly influential as illustrated, for example, by the recent announcement of Professor Richard H. Thaler’s Nobel memorial prize in economic sciences for work his work on “nudges” (Thaler and Substein 2008), and by the dedication to entire special issues on BPA in flagship public administration journals (Grimmelkhuijsen et al. 2017; James et al. 2017; Tummers et al. 2016), as well as the creation of a new academic journal on Behavioural Public Policy. It is the aim of this panel to take stock of the state of the art in both fields, explore synergies, and identify promising avenues for research to take the behavioural perspective to “the next level”. To this end, we invite papers from both junior and advanced scholars that explore a number of themes, at the conceptual or empirical level. Preference will be given to contributions that provide or review systematic evidence on one of these themes.

First, what are the synergies and complementarities between behavioural public policy and behavioural public administration? These two strands of work have developed side by side and at different paces with different emphases, but what can these two subfields learn from each other?  What distinguishes them?

Second, what happens when policy instruments using insights from behavioural science are implemented? How do implementing actors, such as street level bureaucrats (Thomann 2015), view these policy tools and how do they modify and adapt these to fit local contexts? Is there any evidence of subversion of the instruments of behavioural public policy at local level? How are street level bureaucrats themselves devising and deploying behavioural public policy in their interaction with target groups?

Third, behavioural perspectives in particular tend to be dominated by a single methodological paradigm, the experimental method, but how can different methods be used to account for the complexity of policy reality (e.g., Thomann et al. 2015) and increase our knowledge of citizen, politician and bureaucrat behaviour to address substantive concerns of public administration and public policy?

Lastly, most studies of behavioural public policy and administration have focused squarely on individual level behaviour due to their basis in economic and psychological theories of individual decision-making. What, if anything, can these perspectives tell us about collective action? While alternative approaches to Nudges entailing a more group-focused, deliberative element have been suggested (John et al. 2011), this school of thought nevertheless remains largely focused on individual level behaviour change. To what extent can the behavioural insights underpinning BPA and BPP operate at a group level? What are the ways in which behavioural science can be integrated with social or political theories to explain the behaviour of groups?