State Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro) authored legislation that would encourage government agencies to identify policies, programs, and operations where applying behavioral science may yield substantial improvements in public welfare, program outcomes, and cost effectiveness. It also directs government agencies to rigorously test and evaluate the impact of behavioral science insights, as well as strengthen governmental relationships with the research community to better use empirical findings from the behavioral sciences.
“In a nutshell, the idea is to use research that provides insight into human behavior to design programs that deliver public services more effectively,” said Cyr. “It is our job as public servants to recognize the inefficiencies in government and remedy them for the sake of our constituents. Private industry already uses data on human decision-making to sell their products; the Commonwealth should rely on the same type of research to make government services more efficient.”
Behavioral economics came into the national spotlight when Richard H. Thaler, the founder of the field, was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science . Readers may be familiar with Thaler’s work through Nudge, a best-selling book he co-authored with Cass Sunstein in 2007.
Thaler’s work on the predictable irrationality of human behavior in the field of behavioral economics can have a great impact on founded government programs. While traditional economics and policymaking has seen individuals as rational agents who are self-controlled and optimize self-interest, Thaler’s work and others have revealed that humans are motivated to conform to the behavior of others and that we are very responsive to accountability.
Thaler has advanced the notion that by better understanding human rationality and decision-making, governments can improve the efficiency of a broad range of programs, from voter registration to retirement savings plans for public employees.
Senator Cyr’s bill intends to incorporate the lessons of behavioral economics into government practices. It would encourage Massachusetts state agencies to join the U.S. federal government and countries around the world in taking behavioral science research into account when making public policy, improving service delivery, and efficiency significantly.
The bill was referred to the State Administration and Regulatory Oversight Committee where it will be scheduled for a hearing