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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Postgrad (School of Social and Political Studies)

Postgraduate Course: Behavioural Public Policy (PGSP11488)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe aim of this course is to raise students awareness of the growing influence of behavioural science on policy making. Behavioural insights have primarily been applied at the policy implementation level, but increasingly they are being used to design policy. Through a mix of theory and practical examples this course examines the cutting edge use of behavioural science in policy development and implementation.
During the course students will be introduced to the basic concepts of behavioural science/behavioural economics. Through a focus on policy examples students are encouraged to reflect on the way in which behavioural factors, such as cognitive biases, can effect policy outcomes, and, in doing so, they will develop a familiarity with behavioural explanations for policy success and failure. The course aims to help students appreciate how and why behavioural techniques which aim to nudge individuals into behaving in a particular way are being integrated into public policy. Students are also encouraged to consider the conceptual and practical limitations of nudging and to engage with the ethical implications of manipulating behaviour to meet policy objectives.
This course will be of interest to students interested in public policy. They will find that an understanding of behavioural science is useful in explaining how policy is developed. This knowledge will be of particular benefit to those students who have enrolled in Economic Issues in Public Policy or Political Issues in Public Policy. The course content is designed for students with no formal qualifications in economics or psychology.

Course description Behavioural Public Policy is about how behaviour science influences policy making. Students on the course will examine policy areas that are increasingly being influenced by behavioural science. The theory behind nudging will be illustrated using recent policy examples from around the world. The course will help students recognise the increasing use of behavioural techniques in public policy and enable them to critically engage with the effectiveness of such techniques.
In the opening weeks of the course, students will be introduced to the theoretical underpinnings of behavioural economics and will discuss its rise to prominence in the policy domain. In subsequent weeks they will investigate the practical application of behavioural science theories to a wide range of policies areas including health, the environment, education, law and pensions. Using case studies, they will examine policies that take advantage of behavioural biases, such as inertia and status quo bias, to nudge individuals behaviour. They will also reflect upon policy failures and upon policies which, although successful in narrow terms, create unintended consequences. Using knowledge gained from recent behavioural research students will have an opportunity to reappraise these policies and to consider policy alternatives. The course aims to help students understand the interconnectedness between public policies and to develop critical awareness of the importance of behavioural science to policy outcomes. However, rather than uncritically accepting behavioural economists role in policy-making this course encourages students to consider the limitations of nudging. In the final weeks of the course students are encouraged to reflect on the rise of libertarian paternalism and to question the ethical implications of using cognitive biases to manipulate behaviour. They will also be encouraged to consider the practical limits to policy change based on incremental influence on behaviour.

Outline Content
Introduction to behavioural economics
The role of the state in behavioural change.
Using defaults to improve health.
Framing techniques: improving the environment.
Cognitive biases in education
Myopia and anchoring in saving for retirement
Protecting the individual using behavioural insights
Nudged taxpayers and biased politicians
Limitations of the behavioural approach
The ethics of nudging

Student Experience
Each session will consist of a lecture element and an exercise or student discussion element. Where possible the course aims to adopt an innovative approach to learning by encouraging the students to develop understanding through an immersive process where they personally experience behavioural bias and behavioural manipulation. Student participation in class is strongly encouraged. Following each seminar, students are encouraged to watch a related online video - this extension of the learning process through digital medium aims to enhance and consolidates the learning experience. The mix of engagement integrates the added value of a campus based education course together with the flexibility for students to approach learning in their own time.

Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate a critical perspective on the principle theories and concepts underpinning the use of behavioural insights in policymaking
  2. Critically analyse and evaluate ways in which behavioural insights are now being used to develop social and public policy.
  3. Be able to apply a significant range of behavioural techniques to evaluate policy
  4. Critically engage with the current ethical debates surrounding the use of behavioural techniques in policy.
  5. Communicate effectively about behavioural issues in public policy with peers and academic staff
Reading List
Alemanno, Albertso & Sibony, Anne-Lise. (2015). Nudge and the Law: A European Perspective. Oxford & Portland:
Beckenbach, Frank & Kahlenborn, Walter. Eds (2016). New Perspectives for Environmental Policies Through Behavioral Economics. Springer
Beshears, John; Choi, James; Laibson, David; Madrian, Brigitte C., (2009), The Importance of Default Options for Retirement Saving Outcomes: Evidence from The United States, in Social Security Policy in a Changing Environment, 16795 Hart
Baron, Jonathon. (2016) A Welfarist Approach to Manipulation Journal of Marketing Behaviour Vol. 1, 3-4, 283-291
Gayer, Ted & Viscusi, W. Kip. (2015) Behavioural Public Choice: The Behavioural Paradox of Government Policy. Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy Vol. 38, 973-1007
Goodwin, Tom (2012). Why We Should Reject Nudge. Politics, Vol. 32, Issue 2, 85 92.
Hagman, William; Anderson, David; Vastfjall, Daniel; Tinghog, Gustavet (2015). Public Views On Policies Involving Nudges. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, Volume 6, Issue 3, Pp 439-453
Hallsworth M, Snijders V, Burd H, Prestt J, Judah G, Huf S, Halpern David. (2016) Applying Behavioral Insights: Simple Ways to Improve Health Outcomes. Doha, Qatar: World Innovation Summit for Health, 2016
Infante, Gerardo, Lecouteux, Guilhelm, Sugden Robert, (2016) Preference Purification and the Inner Rational Agent: A Critique of the Conventional Wisdom of Behavioural Welfare Economics, Journal of Economic Methodology 23.
John, Peter. How Far to Nudge: Assessing Behavioural Public Policy (2018) New Horizons in Public Policy Series. Elgar.
Kahneman, Daniel. (2011), Thinking Fast & Slow. Penguin
Oliver, Adam. (2017) The Origins of Behavioural Public Policy. Cambridge University Press
Shafir Eldar, Ed (2013), The Behavioral Foundations of Public Policy Princeton University Press.
Sunstein, Cass. (2015). Nudges, Agency, And Abstraction: A Reply to Critics. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, Volume 6, Issue 3, Pp 511-
Thaler, Richard; Sunstein, Cass; (2003), Libertarian Paternalism, American Economic Review, 93, 2, 175-179
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Identify, conceptualise and define abstract problems and issues.
Develop critical analysis, and evaluation of issues.
Make informed judgements in the absence of complete or consistent data.
Communicate with peers and specialists.
Exercise substantial autonomy and initiative in activities.
Make informed judgements on issues not addressed by current ethical codes or practices.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserMs Lynne Robertson-Rose
Tel: (0131 6)50 9922
Course secretaryMiss Jemma Auns
Tel: (0131 6) 50 24 56
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