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Panel Proposals

Proposed Panel - The Behavioural Turn in Policy Sciences

Fifth Asia-Pacific Public Policy Network Annual Conference (APPN)


Michael Howlett, Simon Fraser University
Leong Ching, National University of Singapore


Traditional policy-making has chiefly relied on compliance-deterrence models to achieve their stated objectives. Policy targets, in the form of individuals or organizations, are envisioned to rationally respond towards incentives to maximize their utility or profits. Policy-making, over the years, has largely proceeded using the rational-utility approach despite early recognition that people’s actual behaviour frequently deviated from the model’s predictions.


These two strands in the policy sciences – the unabashed and supremely confident utilitarianism of hedonic analysts and the skepticism and “muddling along” of more empirically-oriented scholars (Lindblom, 1959, Forester, 1984) have always sat together in some discomfort, but have nonetheless proceeded in parallel as the policy sciences emerged and prospered.


Recently however, these dominant models of compliance-deterrence and rational-utility have been challenged by the emerging fields of behavioural economics and co-production research. There is now overwhelming evidence that debunks previously long-held assumptions – in reality, people are complex entities, exhibiting bounded rationality, self-interest, and self-control.


Embracing people’s complexity and systematic use of biases and heuristics has resulted in a slew of ‘behavioural’ interventions and policies, which promise to be less costly but more effective. In some cases, fines and penalties have given way to the use of norms, nudges, and collective action. The creation of nudge units and behavioural laboratories within governments highlights this important trend in policy-making.


The growing interest in accounting for behavioural considerations in policy-making has given rise to the concept of ‘behavioural state’.  This panel invites papers and presentations that consider the behavioural turn in policy-making, and its corresponding implications. Some issues to consider are:


  • Empirical demonstrations of the behavioural turn, especially the challenges faced or factors that facilitated this behavioural turn.


  • The take-up of behavioural interventions has been uneven across countries, sectors, and issues. What conditions or circumstances are likely to foster or hinder the rise of a ‘behavioural state’?


  • Will the ‘regulatory state’ with its costly preoccupation on monitoring and compliance co-exist (or perhaps even be replaced) with the ‘behavioural state’?  What are the implications for other theories of the limits of the state?


  • Behavioural interventions are sometimes criticized for impinging on a person’s decision-making (eg. setting defaults makes the decision for the majority). How should governments justify interventions, and how should people remain alert for unwanted intrusions? More generally, problematizing moral limitations on interventions.

Please submit your abstract directly to Meg Reganon, email:

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