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The University of Southampton
Centre for Political Ethnography

Observing the behavioural state Event

12:00 - 14:00
5 November 2019
Murray Building 58/2097

Event details

'Behavioural Insights' has emerged as an increasingly popular approach to policy making in governments across the globe. This approach, which gained particular traction with the publication and spread of 'Nudge', has been met with great enthusiasm, but also skepticism and criticism. Despite the diversity of appraisals, often it remains unclear how the grand narrative of Behavioural Insights gets materialized in practice. There is a lack of deep qualitative explorations into the everyday practices of contemporary 'Behavioural Insights experts' within government. Who are they? What do they actually do? And how do they seek to deliver on their promise of leveraging new insights from psychology and behavioural economics into successful policies? Against this background, we present two independent research projects that have both attempted to get beyond the frontstage of the emerging behavioural state. Sarah Ball undertook her research on the Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government, while Joram Feitsma has interviewed and observed Behavioural Insights experts in Dutch local and central government. The two researchers also developed an exploratory paper discussing the similarities and differences between their findings, giving rise to surprising insights about the alleged coherence of the field of Behavioural Insights. We will discuss these findings and reflect on the relevance of doing ethnographic fieldwork in the field of behavioural public policy.

Speaker information

Sarah Ball,is currently working on her PhD at the Institute of Social Science Research at the University of Queensland. Her research project is an ethnographic study of the use of behavioural insights and experimental methods in the development of social policy in the Australian Federal Government. Prior to undertaking her Phd, Sarah completed her Masters Degree in Sociology in 2010. This was followed by 5 years in the Australian Public Service, where she developed a deep interest in policy maker behaviour, decision making and evidence-based policy.

Joram Feitsma,is Assistant Professor at Utrecht University School of Governance. He studied Public Administration and Organisation Science, and Philosophy at Utrecht University and Washington University, St Louis. Subsequently, he undertook doctoral research on the rise of behaviour experts in governments, culminating in the book 'Inside the Behavioural State'. Joram has published in, among other outlets, Critical Policy Studies, Policy Sciences, Policy & Politics and Evidence & Policy. He has been a visiting researcher at the University of Queensland and at Aberystwyth University, where he is academic partner of the Interdisciplinary Behavioural Insights Research Centre.

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