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Harvard Kennedy School

Applying Behavioral Insights to the Design of Public Policy

Harvard Applying Behavioral Insights to the Design of Public Policy Executive Program
Oct 27—Nov 1, 2019
6 days
Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
USD 9400
USD 1566 per day

How it works


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Behavioral insights and public policy: Can the former be used to craft solutions for the latter?

Traditionally, many government policies are designed on the basis of how people should behave and an assumption that this behavioral is rational. Yet both individuals and organizations make many decisions that systematically depart from what is rational. The result? Policies that are ineffective or even backfire.

But using insights gleaned from behavioral economics, psychology and other social sciences, you can craft better policies that have more successful outcomes.

Better Public Policy from Behavioral Insights

Led by a renowned group of scholars and practitioners working in this rapidly expanding field, this program will introduce you to cutting-edge research from various social science disciplines and how these can be used to build more effective policies. You will examine how behavioral insights can inform the development of nontraditional policy tools and why these can be more impactful and cost-effective than traditional policy tools.

Applying Behavioral Insights to the Design of Public Policy will provide you with:

  • An introduction to behavioral insights
  • Strategies for building more effective polices using behavioral science
  • Cutting-edge research from this field
  • A deep understanding of the factors that drive individual behavior
  • An opportunity to learn from Harvard faculty, researchers, scientists and expert practitioners
  • A lasting network of peers with similar backgrounds and experience


Applying Behavioral Insights to the Design of Public Policy is a one-week program exploring how behavioral insights can be used to help construct public policies.

A distinguished teaching team comprising Harvard faculty, science scholars and expert practitioners will lead you through a powerful and engaging experience. The program uses a unique combination of lectures, case studies, participant presentations, small-group workshops, experiential learning and robust class discussions to deliver the curriculum. Cutting-edge research from economics, psychology and other social sciences are presented, introducing concepts that can help inform policy development.

The Applying Behavioral Insights to the Design of Public Policy curriculum:

  • Introduces new behaviorally informed policy tools that can be applied to address problems across sectors.
  • Challenges you and your peers to think critically about the policy tools that will be most effective and appropriate for specific policy problems.
  • Shows how behavioral insights can improve the effectiveness of traditional policy tools like financial incentives, disclosure or regulation.
  • Demonstrates how to apply behavioral insights in a variety of domestic and international policy domains including savings, consumer credit, education, labor markets, energy use, health care, revenue collection and tax compliance, social welfare programs and the political process.


To facilitate the learning process, the program focuses heavily on examples of successful behavioral insight interventions. Examples include:

Public health: Many European countries mandate only plain packaging for tobacco products. In Latvia, this was combined with an app providing a calculation of the daily, monthly and annual savings that can result from cutting down on smoking, and posed the tradeoff for attractive goods, such as laptops and mobile phones.

Environment: Spare or soon-to-expire food is collected from participating restaurants, hotels and supermarkets in Portugal and delivered to distributing centers to cater to the needs of poorer families. The "Zero Waste” project uses behavioral levers such as framing (e.g. slogan “Portugal cannot give itself to waste”), reciprocity and salience (participating entities receive a “Zero Waste” label to help citizens identify them). The project has so far distributed over 2.3 million meals.

Pensions defaulting: In the United Kingdom, a reform that required employers to automatically enroll employees in a pension plan increased participation by 20 percent. This behavioral tool is now mandated to be rolled out to private and public sector employers.

Who should attend

Applying Behavioral Insights to the Design of Public Policy is designed for policymakers with a wide range of backgrounds, policy areas and responsibilities as well as those working alongside them.

Recommended applicants include:

  • Officials in national, state/provincial and local governments who wish to apply behavioral insights to public policy interventions
  • Representatives from foundations and nonprofit organizations who work on public policy issues and wish to increase the effectiveness of the projects they undertake, fund or evaluate

A background in economics, statistics, psychology or any other specific discipline is not required.


I am a behavioral scientist and Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. My work applies behavioral science insights and methods to understand important social challenges and to develop interventions to mitigate them. Specifically, I study how to help families effectively support...

Next dates

Oct 27—Nov 1, 2019
6 days
Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
USD 9400
USD 1566 per day

How it works

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