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Behavioral science around the world: profiles of 10 countries

5 Mar 2019

While public bodies have considered the beliefs and behaviors of citizens in the past, given that the first formal and systematic application of behavioral insights dates back 2010 – when the UK established the first such unit (the Behavioural Insights Team, or BIT) – this is an impressive figure.

Around the same time as BIT’s formation, several countries were exploring the use of behavioral insights in public policy, and publishing policy notes and reports advising the government on the value of behavioral science. It wasn’t long until other countries followed BIT’s lead and established their own units, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, Singapore, and the U.S. More recently, interest in applying behavioral science to public policy has expanded across the globe, with an increasing number of countries applying and testing behavioral insights. For example, the Ministry of Education in Peru established the innovation lab, MineduLab, in April 2016 to address education-related challenges such as teacher absenteeism, teacher motivation, improving student performance, increasing parents’ engagement, and reducing dropout rates (MineduLab, 2016). Tamil Naldu, an Indian state with a population of 70 million, established a memorandum of understanding with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) to incorporate evidence-based research and behavioral insights into state-level programs and policies. This has become a common model, with countries such as Mexico, Indonesia, Kuwait, Kenya, Qatar, and the U.A.E. exploring behavioral science in public policy by partnering with groups like BIT, ideas 42, the World Bank, J-PAL, as well as other leading experts in the field.

With an increasing number of public bodies became interested in leveraging behavioral insights for improving policies and services, questions have emerged around how best to integrate this function into government operations, how projects should be selected, and what guidelines can aid public bodies in incorporating behavioral insights.

This report aims to capture both the spread and form of behavioral science in 10 countries, selected based on being innovators or early adopters in the field: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, Peru, Singapore, the U.S., and the UK. We hope that the experiences of these ten countries – including information on how public bodies within these countries are integrating behavioral insights, how they are working to apply behavioral insights, and how these behavioral functions have been structured and staffed – can serve as useful information for all those working to leverage behavioral science to improve society. Given the expansion of behavioral science within governments; the shifting behavioral insights landscape; and the limit to, and wide distribution of, public information; this report presents a representative snapshot of the state of behavioral science within the governments of the profiled countries. Omissions are regrettable and, unfortunately, inevitable.

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