Connecting state and local government leaders
In North Carolina, about 30 jurisdictions got together to discuss how ‘behavioral interventions’ could solve some of their biggest challenges.
Students at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy are designing behavioral interventions this semester in small teams with North Carolina local government officials.
Part of a Behavioral Economics for Municipal Policy course, 50 students will analyze local government data for behavioral patterns they can affect with improvement strategies meant to increase the effectiveness of policies and programs in areas like informed consent, shared decision-making and health care cost containment.
Last month, President Obama issues an executive order calling for the application of behavioral science insights to better serve citizens, and Sanford kicked off its initiative with a Local Government Policy Workshop for around 70 local government officials from 30 North Carolina jurisdictions.
“For me the biggest lesson is humility. We do lots of experiments, and very often we find that we were wrong,” professor Dan Ariely, who teaches Sanford’s behavioral economics course, says in this video . “The moment you realize you’re wrong, you start questioning your intuition, and you say, ‘Rather than creating a new policy or a new regulation or something else and assuming it will work, because that’s what feels right, let me test it.’”
Humans traditionally use information by processing it quickly, making a judgement call and implementing their decision. The workshop challenged local government officials to sit down with each other and talk through the issues their jurisdictions face while keeping this fundamentally human behavior in mind.
Officials tackled case studies on issues like traffic and congestion, putting on their behavioral economist hats to think through, for instance, how to reduce wear and tear to roads in a city where the economy is booming and the population rapidly growing.
Environments tend to matter more than decisionmakers prone to relying on their intuition think, Ariely said, and policies crafted when times are easy might not prove the best approaches across the board.
Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor for Government Executive’s Route Fifty.