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Behavioural Insights

Behavioural insights (BI) is an inductive approach to policy making that combines insights from psychology, cognitive science, and social science with empirically-tested results to discover how humans actually make choices.

Driven by experimentation and piloting, BI challenges established assumptions of what is thought to be rational behaviour of citizens and businesses, informing decision makers of the “actual” behaviours driving economic or societal outcomes. Behavioral economics, a related field,  applies this approach to in understanding how human decisions vary from those implied in classical economics.

Basic principles

  • Multi-disciplinary analysis from the behavioural sciences
  • Applying the scientific method to policy making
  • Empirically-tested solutions

State of the practice

Behavioural insights have become increasingly entrenched in governments around the world as a tool to improve the effectiveness of public policy. A survey of 60 ‘nudge units’ around the world and a collection of over 100 case studies on the application of behavioural insights to public policy across 11 policy domains indicates the extensive adoption of the approach. Now, over 200 institutionalised BI-related bodies exist in the public sector.

Considerations for use in the public sector

Behavioural insights can be used throughout the policy cycle to improve policy making. At the design and implementation phases, governments are using BI as a cost-effective way of testing multiple policy responses at once on a smaller scale to determine the best course of action. This limits the risk of committing resources to the full implementation of a given policy solution, which may have to be revisited at a later date. BI is also a diagnostic tool for understanding from a user perspective what works, and what does not. BI can also be used to improve the effectiveness of policy-making tools, such as debiasing the stakeholder engagement process to gain a better understanding of the true preferences of citizens. Finally, BI can also be used for changing organisational behaviour.

 Typical methods and tools 

Behavioural insights relies on inductive methods to test and re-test solutions before moving to full implementation, as well as to diagnose and evaluate problems, including:

  • Randomised controlled trials
  • Laboratory experiments
  • Pilot tests
  • Online experiments
  • Literature reviews

Related OECD publications 

Regulatory Policy and Behavioural Economics

Behavioural Insights for Public Integrity: Harnessing the Human Factor to Counter Corruption

Behavioural Insights and Public Policy: Lessons from Around the World

Behavioural Insights in Public Policy: Key Messages and Summary from OECD International Events

Protecting Consumers through Behavioural Insights: Regulating the Communications Market in Colombia

Behavioural insights and new approaches to policy design: The views from the field


See all Behavioural Insights toolkits


Would you like some help?

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