Towards Behaviorally Informed Public Interventions: new analytical framework
The objective of the research is to explore empirically the usefulness of methodology of applied behavioral science for the analysis of public interventions. For the purpose of this project, the term "public interventions" has been broadly defined as both direct interventions (policies, programs, projects) and legal regulations.
Public interventions are intended to shape the economy and society in desirable ways. They are responses of decision-makers to arising socio-economic problems and challenges. Interventions are designed to trigger certain change mechanisms that in turn should lead to expected effects. In a complex world it is "a trial and error, problem solving process". As Shafir points out, effective interventions must depend on an in-depth understanding of human behavior, since behaviors are usually the drivers of change mechanisms.
The traditional, dominating approach to the analysis of public interventions is based on rational choice theory. It assumes that people have an unchanging set of preferences; they are guided by personal utility and make insightful, well-calculated decisions based on prior careful planning. Latest empirical findings of cognitive psychology revealed that these assumptions do not match reality. Actual behaviors are results of heuristics and rules of thumb that can lead to systematic errors and biases. Choices can be constructed rather than elicited by social situations. Those findings seem to be universal and working in different socio-economic and institutional contexts. Therefore, we can state that the traditional approach to policy analysis does not offer a reliable explanation of the real mechanism that determines effects of public interventions. A new approach is needed.
This emerging approach is called "applied behavioral science". By combining cognitive psychology with sociology, law and economics it offers promising insight into real decision-making of addressees of the interventions. However, it is still in its early stages of development, and it lacks coherent, interdisciplinary methodology.