Behavioural insights as the new scientism?

I thought I posted this talk from some time ago on Troppo when I gave it back in October, but I can’t find it. So here it is. Apologies if it’s already here. As ever, a raw machine read transcription is over the fold.

In my first call I realised this person is really smart and intelligent and I was impressed by the breath of knowledge that the person has. And then you have a second call and discover that he’s a very humble, a fantastic person. And by the third uou become friends. Dear all our next guest is a wildly published policy economist entrepreneur and commentator he’s advised cabinet ministers as well as certain Australia’s productivity commission bringing innovative solutions to the forefront we are honoured to introduce professor Nicholas Gruen founder and CEO of Lateral Economics Australia who better to tell us whether behavioral insights are the new scientism over to you Nicholas.

Thanks for casual just put this on. I’ll just share my screen. Then I have to go into presentation mode so sing out of anything is wrong about this we we in good shape to speak precache, yes, we are all yours. Okay, thank you so I’m gonna talk about our behavioral insights the news scientism you’ll find out what’s scientific means if you don’t know soon enough and the and I’m getting with illustrate that with a rather cheeky question, which is what would a real well-being budget look like.

So many of you will recall but justinder are done the prime minister of New Zealand is associated with the world’s first well-being budget and certainly the idea is a very worthy one, which is to. Use the instruments of government not just to look after the economy but to target the well-being of its population so this is gone round the world just into has become a star of the world economic forum the United Nations, she even provoked her own little culture war in Australia, as you can see there on you on the right with our labor party saying it wasn’t a bad idea and our conservative liberal party making fun of the idea.

Now in Australia well well before I get onto that I want to make some big grand chain claims really they’re audacious claims and you should be rightly skeptical of them, so it’s up to me to demonstrate them to you that’s the New Zealand well-being budget was not really a new approach or a new paradigm it was a bit of a rebranding.

The Jacinta that that’s not because Jacinder Adern is a cynical person nor even the herb bureaucrats were cynical and just managed to pull her by the nose and give her business as usual when she asked for something special they believed they’re delivering a well-being budget as well, but they’re not and they’re not because of a simple confusion so that’s my audacious claim.

So let me start out by telling you that Australia had a well-being framework it was announced by it was it was championed by the Secretary of the Treasury Ken Henry and I think it was 2011 and the Treasury produced this five points well-being framework and some speeches were given about it and they explained what a great thing it would be and.

Nothing much happened. Life went on as usual, some of you might have had similar experiences when you’ve been off to a weekend retreat an off-site retreat and you thresh through lots of missions statements and critical but very general statements and when you get back it’s pretty much all the same and in fact just a few years on with the Australian welding framework having apparently found its way into Treasury’s treasury’s DNA the treasure.

Reproduced report produced its own submissions to government inquiries one was on improving Australia’s financial system to meet its evolving needs the other one was supporting its competition policy framework. And here’s the thing. The treasury submission did not mention the word complexity. In those two inquiries which raise the question of complexity for consumers.

Some well-being framework. In New Zealand before just enterodern arrived at Jacinta are done in fact met a New Zealand treasury that had been taught thinking and talking about well-being just as the Australian treasury had but it had been it had been doing it in a much more serious way that had done a good deal of work on this and I’m just showing you a few graphics from what was a really quite substantial amount of work and I had some discussions with the New Zealand treasury during that.

Time this is a this is the living standards framework as they claim as the heart of their policy advice and this is a translation of that framework into the language and concepts of their indigenous people. The here is here’s some further work showing you how they’re fitting the various bits of the puzzle together on the left on the right, the treasury is doing some serious work on trying to come to terms with the academic literature discussing things like social capital how is it going to be defined how we’re going to operationalize trying to?

Improve it and so on. So by the time just center a done arrived and said she wanted to do well being budgeting the prime minister and that that will rather the treasury and their new prime minister were well matched and on the left you can see a framework that they’ve developed.

I won’t I won’t pause too much to go into it on the right you can see a heat map now, let me just explain to you what’s going on there down here in the on the bottom left hand corner. You get well-being well-being dimensions of well-being if you like so one is civic engagement and governance and other one is cultural identity jobs earnings and so on health education environment and so on.

And in this heat map what they’re able to do because they’re getting so much data in is that they’re they can they can tell you the correlation between housing on the one hand and income and consumption on the other and that’s highly correlated as you would expect because people with income get themselves better housing and so on.

So the well-being budget was put together according to five themes and I’m just putting the five themes before you there and the New Zealand treasury is able to take quite narrow this is a fairly broad part of the New Zealand population from 15 to 34 years they’re able to take but they’re able to take much narrow a snapshots than that and they’re able to tell you how they’re going on all those dimensions.

So this is a pretty impressive this is a pretty impressive story. I don’t know whether they can tell you the well-being of indigenous people in rotor but that’s the kind of thing that I know they would they aspire to be able to do and there’s something missing off or with all this work.

Is something missing. Is something terribly missing because with all that work we know we might know a great deal about marry well-being in roads ruler how it is better or worse than non-marry well being in Rotarua. And we have not got any direct information on how to improve it.

So welcome to the one of the most classic one of the most profound and powerful. Phenomena of scientism, which helps us confuse knowing a lot about something having a lot of knowledge about something. With knowing what to do next knowing how why we want the information and how we can make the world better for that aspiration.

And of course I can’t help but notice that in this conference having listened to a few sessions the the work the the expression behavioral science is used quite a lot now please don’t think I’m there for critical of behavioral science science is important knowing what’s going on in the world being rigorous about that is obviously important but I want to broaden I want to show you something that I think is really very striking.

Here’s a guy called Herbert Simon and he helps us he helps us crystallize this distinction between science scientism knowing how and knowing what and one of the things he says is that the sciences are for knowing and there’s a list of sciences and they at the top of that list is the most rigorous if you like and the most highly prestigious science and it goes.

Down to more complicated more chancey more uncertain disciplines, and then he adds then herbert. Simon tells us that the professions are for doing and there’s a list of professions. Now I can’t help this is a kind of an aside but it helps me make some of the points. I want to make.

I think economics is in the wrong list not that herbert. Simon has put it in the wrong list. I think it puts itself in the wrong list. I think economics should think of itself as a profession that is something which obviously wants to base itself on science where appropriate but that it should think of itself as a discipline for doing things in the economic world.

And I think and and and another way to think and again, I’m not trying to tell you behavioral. I’m not trying to demonize one group of one discipline and lion eyes another one but a nice I think quite a good contrast for the for the attendance of this conference to think about is the idea of behavioral science as a science.

And human-centered design as as Herbert. Simon said all professions all attempts to make the world better are exercises in design. So more generally scientism involves the reaching for scientific prestige for its own sake rather than because being scientific is the most important thing that we need to be. Scientism involves trying to look scientific which is which economics has a terrible problem with because most economics is in mathematics and some of it needs to be in mathematics and but quite a lot of it in fact some of the things I’ll talk to you today about the sort of can’t be put in mathematics if you put them in mathematics, you can’t understand them as well as if you put them in words and as a result economist really barely know about them.

And scientism tends to deal in decontextualised knowledge nuggets sounds like a product doesn’t maybe I should set up a business selling decontextualised knowledge nuggets but there’s a fairly subject heavily subsidized industry that’ll be competing with me academia and so maybe that’s not such a good idea and we’ve seen the cost of this.

In the global pandemic. Here’s a sort of status map of science and a good deal of the of our of our handling of the global pandemic was scientistic it was too enamoured of. Scientific respectability what’s wrong with that well what’s wrong with that is it wasn’t common cynical enough much of it was to decontextualise let me give you a very specific example here is a hierarchy of evidence that you would learn if you went to medical school and particularly if you were studying public health and epidemiology.

Um, you can see there that matter analysis systematic review randomized controlled trials are the most important, they’re the most prestigious most scientific kinds of evidence. The problem is this it’s an okay thing to learn as a sort of proposition but it comes with a heavy and the the caveat is all other things being equal and all other things are not equal if I asked you how do we how do we decide whether or not parachutes work?

You could tell me to do a randomized controlled trial you could tell me well, we won’t know if they really work or not scientifically if we haven’t done a randomized controlled trial but I don’t think you’ll be able to get people to agree to do a randomized controlled trial of people jumping out of planes with and with our parachutes so we found ourselves in the global financial crisis in this situation where a quite a large number of epidemiologists were saying are we can’t use, Certain bits of evidence because it doesn’t come with a high enough pedigree and as you can see the problem.

I think that there’s going to be a lot of evidence that you can need to use and not only are you not isn’t going to be as good as you’d like but you’ll be varying certain things and you may want to use evidence in some slightly new way and you have to make your own judgments about that.

And yet we teach epidemiology public health medicine a little too much like it is science and not a profession that it’s about knowing more than doing and as a result our response to covered was let’s just say catastrophic here are two interventions one is just taking people’s temperature that can have some effect masks as we know can have a very substantial effect.

The WHO the highest body the body at the top the world health organization said that masks weren’t too to weren’t advised and as and and as a result the chief medical officers are various countries came out and advised that you really wouldn’t want to wear a mask here’s something I looked at this slide is about a about six weeks old.

I think it would have chart that the actual details would have changed a bit. But not much so once the once the cover crisis was upon us this was I think I think this is in in June this the data for this slide there were at this point of time there were a hundred and forty five drug trials of hydroxychloroquine and various hospitals and hospital systems around the world as we know there are scores of vaccine trials and at that.

Point they had been two trials of masks none examining social distancing the quarantine effect or adherence at hand hygiene and other non-driving interventions. Almost no research on the effects of non-drug interventions on transmissibility. Meanwhile, this is a picture of a friend of mine who’s a data scientist and was the chief scientist at Kaggle which was a which was a company that I was the founding chairman of this now owned by Google and he is not an epidemiologist he’s a very smart guy and he decided to take action and he he and some friends appears in the Czech Republic and elsewhere have saved tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives and are now play you a, Video.

Is I thinks functioning now Prakash. Can you hear me? Yes it is. Yeah, okay. So now some months afterwards here is the set of days disease control director saying facemasks may provide more protection than Corona virus vaccine. And a shocking a shocking admission and some and something that tells us we could have saved.

Dollars in our response to corona virus. Now, I I do want to play another video that’s quite important. I will just have to I’ll just have to Professor yes. I didn’t talk to you. Can you try unplugging your Yeah. I’ll do that when I get to it. I’ll try that.

Maybe that’s how the video will work. Yes. Well, we tried it before. I don’t think so, we’ll see. Anyway, so I now want to talk about nudge unit and what nudge units and what works? And I think it’s important to place this in the context of the problem of bureaucracy.

So bureaucracies are big and complicated things like markets and lots of other things and they have people at the top of them and those people in government bureaucracies control policy and delivery is done further down the organisation. And here’s Peter Sher Gold who was the who was very senior public certain in Australia for a long time?

Telling us the government policy it should be more a government policy shouldn’t making government policy should not be more prestigious than delivering results. And, He unfortunately it is it was in 2005 it still is now and I can find you very similar very similar a statements to that effect from Canada and and the United Kingdom and so on.

Now one thing that I think and I won’t go into this because I don’t have time but I put a saw this in the early 1980s how Toyota had essentially rebuilt the idea of hierarchy from the bottom up. Now, it doesn’t. Of people at the top aren’t ultimately in control.

It means that they have gone to immense lengths to understand the extent to which a hierarchy just ends up seeing things from the point of view of the people at the top and in the center and the great challenge is to find ways to get the people at the edge of the organization at the bottom of the organization on the front line and also beyond the organization suppliers and so on to have a voice and to continue.

To do better once they get that voice. And to be empowered to do so empowered with power and empowered with information. I won’t I won’t have a lot of time. Some many people will be familiar with some of the ideas that Toyota implemented. The essence here the critical thing is that they’ve built a system in which learning can go upwards.

I will again very quickly just show you these stunning productivity graphs from the 60s through till 19. 92 comparing US automotive productivity in Japanese automotive productivity have a look at my slides after the event if you’re interested, they really are completely extraordinary. So I think one way to think about the nudge unit approach behavioral insights approaches that it is an attempt to address itself to bureaucracies as they are and of course one doesn’t have any choice.

You can come up with a better idea, but if the if you can’t appeal to the people running the, Bureaucracy then there’s not much point. So nudge units opera and and I’ll talk briefly about what works centers have a similar kind of having a similar kind of inspiration which is to do to they are consultancies so they are very much at the in the top end of the echelon or of the of the organization but they trying to do work which really should have been done by a competent.

Bureaucracy but isn’t being done and they’re introduced techniques here’s an example of AB testing so two different letters get experimented with and you measure which are most successful. What’s attractive about this is how scalable it is. And so that becomes a very attractive thing. Here’s another example using feedback to send people text messages before they turn up other job center to improve their the, Reliability to to get more people doing being part of the program and so on.

And what works centers are again an attempt to deal with the fact that academia is not very helpful to practical to people trying to do practical things in the world. So in a way it’s trying to drag it out of the scientific paradigm and into a professional paradigm out of a knowing paradigm and into a doing paradigm but as you can see from that.

Chart that I put up the knowledge that comes out of what works centers is very often very decontextualised and you know, there’s a lot of one size fits all about it now again. I’m not being critical you have to start somewhere and this seems to me to be a better place to start than lots of lots of universities are out in academia where their main goal is to get things published in academic journals and there they set as if.

They’re a secret and very few people ever hear about them. I want to show you a different. I want to show you a different approach and.

And before I do I want to take you back to Herbert Simon because I think there’s something else that I that that can be said that which is that sciences address the universe and I don’t want to get anyone to excited but professions address the multiverse the human multiverse because there are about contingent worlds they’re about a world that we seek to build so that is a pretty powerful way of talking about the contextualised knowledge.

If knowledge is decontextualised it’s capacity to help us do something in our inner necessarily very concrete situation is always something to keep in mind and again, there’s the there’s that suggested contrast between behavioral science and human centered design. And silicon valley has given us some good lessons here. I think because silicon valley doesn’t use a lot of behavioral science when you’re really designing a product from the ground up it uses it it it human set of design really became popular because it became because it was seen to be so powerful from silicon valley behavioral science tends to be tips tricks that might be useful in a in a marketing or behavior changed layer and again, I’m not being critical when I say that.

And and I’m also being a generalizing somewhat might be more people think about that when we get to discussions so here’s some examples of silicon valley acing it on human centered design, this is how Google one of the reasons why Google ruled the rooster in the end the main reasons it had better technology, but another important reason was that it was very focused on the on trying to see things from the customers point of view likewise my space filled up with as many ads.

Murder could get on the page and marks hook a big showed a little more patience on that subject and he’s just a recent quote. I came across with an Australian entrepreneur talking about managing technology, the more technology you have the more the human element is important. I now thought I might talk to you about a ancient.

Greek word. Because it’s a very important word. It’s a word I only use this word because we don’t have a we don’t have the concept. So in ancient Greek democracy they have this term is severe and it sometimes gets translated as freedom of speech, but it means equality of speech think about our own democracy think of the fact that less than half the population have university degrees far less, of course in the in the developing world and the, Proportion of their elected representatives who have money and education the two most powerful forms of capital in the world.

Now, this is relevant in bureaucracies, it’s relevant in social programs and I wanted to show you a social program that social program is a program called family by family and we were I was sharing this thing called the center of the Australian Center for Social Innovation. We were given the task of trying to produce a program which prevents it an early intervention program.

Which prevents families falling into crisis. And experts have this habit and they don’t necessarily mean it. They don’t know they’re just not thinking that they might not be the center of knowledge and the center of the action. So virtually all the programs to address this problem turn out to be involved social workers turning up at houses to talk to people in case management buyer professional of a family and so on.

And so what we did at the Australian Center for Social Innovation, was we? Turned all that around we didn’t exactly we turned it kind of on its head but we didn’t just say we want to bring a mentor family to help mentor or not a family. We said we do want it to be a professional program but we want the professional to be a midwife not an obstetrician.

That is the professional was a trained family coach that would take the families through the through the program the the fan. Family mentoring the other. Now, I’m going to take the my microphone out and hopefully we’ll get sound on this video and if we don’t hopefully percasual let me know and I’ll just have to press on without it.

When we write. Family is. One of the most inspiring approaches to assisting very vulnerable families families going through a tough time that I’ve come across in four decades, lots of people are in that bit where they try to get through it and they can’t get out the other side so you can kind of go you know, what I did this I’ve been here.

I’ve done that. I can actually get out I can help you get out the other side it can be done it’s not a completely hopeless situation and I think that’s mostly what sharing families have to offer I think is just themselves and their stories and their life and Linda and had family they were going through a really hard time they were at risk of having their family separated by having the children removed from the home 27 notifications in in the last three years before this year what we saw was a very sad depressed family, there’s a lot of confusion happening.

I wanted to take the kids to they were 18. I went through court for three months how can we help with this because we’re just dysfunctional as the next family realized that we actually learned a lot of things that that we could really help Linda with the show and David have just coaxed me along and fantastic to go through court having the support behind me and not losing my kids.

I’m looking at a happier future with my kids.

I’m see. I’m a seeking family almost single parent with four children some special needs he was too young for it to be labeled so I got labeled as um developmental delays which is an umbrella thing since then I’ve been knocking on doors and you know screaming and crying and whatever for hell we have guest speakers giving us training for example from autism essay that was particularly significant with soon.

Because I was able to pass on that information it made time late now. I’m useless on this. I know you are a good mom you do a good job, you know. So it’s just. Yes that helps immensely just seeing her come alive the way that she holds herself compared to the way that she did when I first met her is just yeah, she actually, you know, stands tall and smiles now life is.

As it’s just gonna get better it’s as good as it can get for me at the moment. I’ll delay, you know, I’m giving us hope of a new way of reaching out to troubled families drawing on the strengths that exist in other families, so I’m my my system tells me I have about eight more minutes so I’ll try and get through what I had to talk about but this is a this is like lots of programs around the world and extremely promising program but, Here’s the thing.

We are continually virtually everywhere there is this idea that we exist in a market that that programs will have innovative programs will pick the ones that work will scale those programs and they’ll replace the other ones. I’d love anyone in the audience to tell me any example we’ve been talking like this for 30 years.

I’d love anyone in the audience to tell me any example of that having happened. And essentially what we’ve got is a. An approach where some words are said which pleases which is which imply we’re in a kind of market for services, but we’re not we don’t build such a market and we end up with some but that’s a favorite image of mine lately because it seems to me the summer the idea of design that the the scientific idea of design this was as you may know Leonardo da Vinci’s first idea for an airplane it was a pretty good one, it just needs a lot of work that’s it’s to see this essentially right, but it needs a great deal.

Of additional design work, so the issue is right now we have no mechanism for doing this we talk about us but nothing happens and I could explain a little more about that and if you’re interested make contact with me after the event that I don’t have time to go into that now what I do want to say is that I want to tell you what system innovation what success would look like it would involve system innovation this precise thing of new programs scaling and displacing old ones.

And it would involve instead of people at the top being rewarded for sucking knowledge out of the edges of the of the organization and the community and projecting it back to them would actually involve the doers in the community, whether knowledge is being identified the where things are happening that are exciting that that being identified rewarded empowered and so on so let me conclude by telling you what are what I think of real well-being budget would look.

Like. Remember this themed budget. I think of this as rather like theming a ball, you know, we’re gonna get people addressed as pirates or in toggers or whatever these are this is governance by word association by abstract nouns you identify some things now those things look to me like they’re some of them look to me like they’re quite closely associated with well-being but there’s no sense in which these themes convince us that.

New Zealand is deploying the instrumentalities of government as effectively as possible to drive up to to discover low well-being and to repair it to drive up well-being what what we would be the first thing it might look like if you did is that it might rather look like a cost curve in greenhouse gases so here you’ll see this is a this is a cost curve which explains the various costs of taking action on reducing.

Emission. Is am quite a few of the things don’t cost you anything they save you money so that’s so what we would be presumably trying to do something similar with well-being what we have done is we spend our time in academic debates about how we’re going to define well-being but we know enough to start without doing that because we know enough to identify very clearly where there is low well-being and then the next question is how straightforward would it be how easy would it be?

To lift that well-being and in measuring well-being the dashboard is a very general dashboard it’s great for the news it’s great for the politicians but it isn’t helping the people running programs to optimize their strategy and it’s not helping us work out which programs are responsible for improving well-being.

So just to give you some examples on these are off the top of my head if we’re looking for low hanging fruit the most the lowest hanging fruit is that if your boss is no good your miserable and you do a lousy job now in fact either the the problem there is how do we get better bosses?

I do have some ideas on that but I don’t have time to tell you that again. I can follow up after the after the event, this is a simpler one which is that carers have low well-being and a lot of that low. Well being is driven by social isolation.

I’m suggesting to you that that’s low on the cost curve and quite possibly going to generate negative costs when you take into account hospital costs and so on this is dyslexia. I think there’s a good chance that we could do this a lot better that we could educate the dyslexic a lot better and there’s a lot of dyslexic people again the sort of thing we could experiment much more with is peer-to-peer teaching and just generally taking the thing more seriously and measuring.

Success and having accountability for that and early childhood intervention is a classic a huge economic and well-being gains from doing that so if we want to move from knowing what so the essence of this the essence of know how is to move not just from knowing what to knowing how but to build a system of knowing for knowing in order to improve well-being so we would measure what works in.

Situ within programs we would come up with provisional definitions of well-being this is generally self-reported well-being you produce a standard for that and you ask people in programs before and after they receive the service to self-report their well-being and you do that in an ongoing way you work out what work what works and what doesn’t work these this gives you social proof for the community.

I think this is the sort of thing that would be far more in the interest of Jacinda and then some Branding. Which is essentially what she’s got going on now and would be would help the programs that work survive a change of government when the change of government as you know, these days is a rebranding.

So those are the those are the kinds of things. I’d like to see are an in place of the themed well-being budget. I’d be wanting to look at individual programs. I’ve tried to give you a bit of a sense of that here, that’s the one that’s a picture of the boss from the earlier slot.

And those little green dots around it would be all the all the data we were collecting on the impact of our programs on well-being. We already know what they cost. We’ve already got the other data but we don’t have well-being data. There’s the dyslexia program that might be 10 different experimental trials and we find out which ones work and we start using that data to drive improvement and so on and so on.

So there’s the slide I gave you about success. How do you? Hold a system’s feet to the fire here the best I can come up with but I think it’s quite a powerful thing is to have annual reports of an order to general saying what’s what aware of the pilot programs which ones are being scaled because fairly quickly this will become a talking point for the political class.

Why do we keep talking about scaling programs that work when we don’t scale any programs and we just stay with what we’ve got with lots of little pilot programs so we can all talk about innovation. So that’s um that I’ve got to the end of my presentation. You can 30 seconds too long.

I’m quite proud of myself for having done that on the circumstances and I’m very happy to hear people’s questions and comments. Thank you very much.

The professor Nicholas that has fantastic. Mark all their found that video of the mask that we could not hear the audio. Uh-huh the guy is shared with us on LinkedIn, so we quickly share it on LinkedIn as I wasn’t today. Oh, no, I just fantastic people people heard it and people are gonna take a look at it.

And also on YouTube, so those are fine. We have a couple of questions. Let’s take them up. We have around eight nine minutes, so I think we should be good, right? The first of this question is from Abuja Vijayanaya. And he says how do this well-being framework enable better cognitive bandwidth for the marginalized with our increasing their bandwidth no policy with achieved its well being objectives is what I think.

Yeah. I think that’s probably right but what you’re asking the the these people the the people the marginalized you’re asking them are very simple question according to the kind of thing that I’m talking about you say to them before. The before the delivery of whatever service you’re delivering assess your what you think of your life from one to ten they tell you you deliver a service and then you find out with the people you’ve delivered it to how they assess their well-being in the same way they may assess their well-being is going to have gone up which is relevant or having stayed the same or having gone down they’re all relevant that will be other considerations because many of these programs are trying to improve literacy or whatever.

But the the so if you use the sort of mechanism I’m talking about I think it can be helpful because it is giving some voice to the marginalized now the other way of looking at this is to say that you will be having probe if you have programs that work for the marginalized you run those programs you attach something like what I’ve spoken about to the program and then the then people tell you yes this works for me and this system that I’ve got bossing me around.

By with bureaucrats doesn’t work for me so it’s not it’s not Nirvana but that seems to me to deliver something more likely to be a learning system than the traditional bureaucratic methods that we use at the moment thank you so much we have a question from Mark market today was the one who found that video for us and shared developers mark thank you mark, thank you, all right?

Mark brother, here’s a question marks question is if well being budget is a good idea. And the public would benefit what really is preventing the application what is really preventing application of it well ideas really. I mean what’s happened at the moment is we have a Jacinda I don’t has shown us that it sells at a PR level gets you invitations the United Nations and the world economic forum everyone’s interested in it what’s then holding it back is that you’re doing things differently are now doing things differently, that’s not.

Hard if you’re a democratic politician. Putting through a tax changes is much harder than this but the thing about this is that it’s very institutionally rich there’s lots of people around there’s lots of social workers who are doing what they’re doing and so if you come up with a way of doing a better job at the moment, there are no level playing fields on which different programs are measured and so the the the weight of professional inertia the weight of professional opinion the difficulty.

Democratic politicians have in taking something away from someone and giving it to someone else often within the bureaucracy it’s too hard so those are the kinds of things but I’m it’s really important for me to point out that politicians do more difficult things than that if they’re populations want them to ultimately if there is a consensus that they should but here there’s really just confusion and lots of people with slogans and nothing much happens.

Right here is another question and it is from Martina. Martinez says can experimentation especially in the field be an antidote to scientism and does it reinforce the tendency to know for the sake of knowing? Or does it reinforce it tendency to know for the sake of knowing all right yeah well it’s a very good question so a lot of nudge units this is true the Australian federal nudge unit, a lot of nudge units are they have quite proud of having high level university graduates in them and there’s a great craze for randomized control trials now randomized control trials are.

Important and worthwhile but they give you a single answer. I’ve got a nice slide showing you the difference between approaches like program logic which tried to break down the logic of a program and test each individual bit of a program to see what’s working what’s not with a randomized controlled trial which simply says we did this here we did it in a randomized way, so we’ve got a control group over here it had this effect.

Well a problem with that is what if you want to vary one element here or you want to do it in another city or something like that, you don’t know the answers to those questions so randomize it but as you I hope people appreciate I was not speaking against science.

I was. Speaking about keeping clear in one’s mind that science is about the universe and the professions are about the multiverse that professions are about the world we’re trying to build and up and so an RCT gives you higher powered knowledge which is very pretty did contextualized if you would need that knowledge that’s good but an awful lot of building a better world will be about using other kinds of knowledge, so if we get ourselves too fanged up with all the graduates who want to RCTs not least because they can then get them.

Published then that actually will look like it’s making progress, it’ll be easy to report on the news and to report to the minister and to go on the dashboard but it actually won’t build a better world very much.

Thank you for that this whole area of at this park you help me understand science as a tool to understand the universe and the world around us versus the profession as the way to implement a user knowledge to get something done yeah it was pretty eye opening and it will lovely to go into entire discussion on that probably for it now, okay every Indian took time, let me get back to the next question out here this is from nam nam nam says, Would be interested to know how Professor Bruins says the role of behavioral sciences in policy evolving over the next decade.

Well, I think the the role of behavioral sciences is obviously like in science. It’s an important and worthwhile science. I I have a preference or something that is done less. It’s taught less and it’s done much less. I call it paying attention. So one of the slides you didn’t see that I sort of edited out for for economy of presentation.

Is a slight I often use when I’m presenting to public servants where I say when you came out of university you thought that a if you’re an economist, in fact, this is a slight. I I presented to economists you think that being an economist is about is 80% your training and 20% fitting your training to the world.

I think it’s around the other way. You’re training gives you certain basic concepts basic ideas, and you need to pay attention to the way those ideas are being used. Often there’s a kind of dominant way, which is just, Stamp which is just the way everyone is thinking and if you pay attention you can often uncover low hanging fruit and hopefully I’ve given you a small example of that precache is saying that this idea of the distinction between sciences and professions was a new one to him gee that’s something isn’t it?

I think that’s it’s a new one to a lot of people but it’s a pretty powerful idea and it’s not from behavioral science. So science is this highly publishable conquest of not. Knowledge in the world and these other things are about human activity and and by paying attention to what we’re doing.

I think we can uncover all kinds of things all kinds of assumptions that we’re making that are really holding us back. Thank you a professor I would love to keep on talking again But really we do have a scheduled to keep up with and other police for that. Thank you for joining us in here and help you with your time and your insights and on behalf of all our you know audiences from all over the world, thank you.

Folks who can hear me I have put down Professor Gruen profile out there if you have any more questions. I’m taking the liberty of saying please feel free to add him up and ask your questions. If you’re lucky, you’ll find some time out of his really big schedule.

And you can DM me on  you can day him on Twitter on ingrown digit one any time you like. Thank you so much.

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paul frijters
paul frijters
3 years ago

yes, there is an element of new scientism about the behavioural insights surge in government. But there is also something else, at least with some of this: the competition between disciplines and professions. Behavioural economists are muscling into territory formerly occupied by marketers and psychologists. What they advise is often not very different but the stories they tell around it. Defaults, appealing to pro-social behaviour.
Nudge has replaced spin, but really its just still spin.
This is clearly not true for everything you talk about. The experimental stuff and ‘framework’ stuff has more of the pure scientism about it.