Six professors, representing six universities, covered six unique topics. And with each presentation, the audience was exposed to a new dimension of how the behavioral sciences can inform their programs.
Kicking-off the first keynote, co-editor of Behavioral Science and Policy and faculty member at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, Craig Fox introduced the audience to “Choice Architecture 2.0.” In his talk, he gave a new take on an old concept, the Hawthorne effect. What was once considered a bug in experimental methodology (people change behavior due to being observed) is now a choice architecture feature (doctors prescribe a higher percentage of generic drugs if they know their behavior is observed).
If the Hawthorne effect describes how we use transparency to influence decision-making, Mike Norton from Harvard Business School pivoted this discussion to show how transparency can also engender good will between citizens and government agencies. In his keynote address, Norton connected the power (and fun!) of the Domino’s Pizza Tracker to Boston’s Citizens Connect app; where residents can effortlessly report public issues, like potholes, and easily see how quickly the city addresses the problem. In short, a transparent government leads to greater citizenship engagement and hopefully, goodwill.
An example from the Citizens Connect app in action
In between these keynotes was a flurry of flash-talks. Carrying-on the theme of citizen engagement, Adam Levine of Cornell University discussed how the language used by politicians and media to describe policies and social problems directly affects the political attitudes people hold.
The same principles used to encourage citizen engagement transfer over to employee engagement as well. Reb Rebele from Wharton People Analytics explained how behavioral science can help organizations better cultivate employee engagement. This could mean reducing the influence of unconscious biases in the workforce or simply make it easier for employees to fully utilize their PTO.
Diving deeper into the behavioral policy toolkit, Dave Nussbaum of the University of Chicago unpacked what makes for a good nudge. He pointed out that often nudging is not a matter of pushing people to do something they’d rather not do, but simply making it easier for them to follow through on the things they already want to do. The key points: start by understanding the situation, consider the ethical implications, and keep in mind that small changes can have disproportionately large effects.
And like any good discussion on behavioral policy, we covered health incentives and motivation. Justin Sydnor from the University Of Wisconsin School Of Business illustrated that when it comes to matters of health and exercise, as humans, we all relate to Homer Simpson on some level. Fortunately though, nudges such as commitment contracts can mitigate our inner-Homers.