Handbook of Behavioural Change and Public Policy
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Handbook of Behavioural Change and Public Policy

Edited by Holger Straßheim and Silke Beck

Behavioural change has become a core issue of public policy. Behavioural instruments such as ‘nudging’ apply insights from behavioural economics and behavioural sciences, psychology and neurosciences across a broad range of policy areas. Behavioural insights teams and networks facilitate the global spread of behavioural public policies. Despite an ever-growing amount of literature, research has remained fragmented. This comprehensive Handbook unites interdisciplinary scholarship, with contributions critically assessing the state and direction of behavioural public policies, their normative implications and political consequences.
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Chapter 6: Behavioural considerations in public policy: matching policy tools and their targets

Michael Howlett


Policy ‘targets’ are often assumed to act as simple rational utility maximizers susceptible to shifts in apparent gains and losses linked to policy incentives and disincentives. This has begun to change with recent work examining policy ‘nudges’ and the effects of co-production and social marketing efforts which both suggest, or are based on, alternative logics of target behaviour. However, analysis and expectations of policy target behaviour still all too often retains a crude concept of the subject inspired by utilitarianism and related assumptions about self-maximizing activity on the part of citizens. This thinking has led to many considerations of policy design focusing on the calibrations of policy tools such as the relative size of penalties or rewards rather than upon the tools being used can attain the nature of compliance and co-operation required or demanded by a design situation. This chapter proposes a new research and practice agenda in order to correct this problem.

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