Nudging Government to Use Evidence

Four strategies to encourge evidence-based policy – and why they will help change behaviour

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Davis Pier

Why have we written disparaging statements about government when our firm is so deeply committed to public sector excellence? These include statements like “as the fire rages on, our governments seem powerless” and “hunches no longer pass for evidence these days, unless we’re talking about government policy.” We have compared the policy-making process to a chaotic game of tag and suggested that government policymakers can act as seemingly irrational as Cosmo Kramer did on Seinfeld.

These statements aimed to grab your attention using behavioural science techniques so you continue reading, and so the author can then convince you that these ideas have merit. It isn’t enough to have the best, most sound solutions to problems. Humans don’t base their opinions and decisions solely on facts and rational arguments, and this is especially true when more complexity is introduced – such as in government policy-making.

Like many public servants, our firm works hard to embed evidence into decision-making. Using evidence in large-scale policy decisions is in society’s best interest and is also incredibly difficult. We have written on the misunderstandings about evidence, the structures within government that prevent the use of evidence, and the challenges that academia (as a key evidence-generator) presents to accessing knowledge. Ultimately, these institutions and their structural issues are driven by humans and their collective decision-making.

Our team has begun exploring how we focus less on only presenting sound evidence and solutions (as many academics, consultants, and experts do) and more on how to best introduce these facts into this collection of human decision-making we call government policy. Perhaps our best bet to advancing the use of evidence in policy-making is to look for strategies that address human behaviour and the biases we humans hold.

To that end, we present four strategies, informed by behavioural science, that government and researchers can deploy to improve the use of evidence in policy decisions.

These strategies are based on proven behavioural science concepts: simplification, commitment devices, optimism bias, confirmation bias, the messenger effect, and incentives. For more detail on these ideas, we recommend reviewing the MINDSPACE report, a document that lead to the establishment of the Behavioural Insights Team at the centre of the UK Government. 


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