Creatures of Habit? The Art of Behavioural Change

Many of the major challenges facing society today require that individuals change their behaviour. However, policies introduced so far have had mixed results.

The proportion of the population classified as obese continues to grow, despite the significant provision of information on the health risks this brings and the diet and activity needed to avoid it. People continue to save too little for their old age, although numerous financial and other incentives have been deployed to promote saving. Despite high-profile campaigns on the harmful effects of human activity on the environment, individual behaviour to address climate change has not shifted as quickly as policymakers have hoped.

Currently, the Government tends to rely on policies that presume that people are rational agents making considered decisions based on the information and resources available to them. This approach has been challenged by developments in behavioural economics and indeed by the fact that much of recent policy activity has failed to bring about the desired change.

However, people can change their behaviour and successful case studies do exist. Unfortunately, little coordinated effort has been made to apply these insights in policymaking. This study has looked at a wide range of examples from across the international public policy spectrum to better understand the drivers behind people’s choices and behaviour, and distilled the messages into a tool for policymakers to improve the future development and design of policy solutions.

This publication is kindly supported by Ernst and Young.

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