Improving Local Government through Behavioral Economics

Peter Ubel SanfordA couple weeks ago, I had the privilege of talking with government officials from across the state of North Carolina – mayors, city Council people, and the like – about the possible role that insights from behavioral science can play in helping them promote the well-being of their communities. Here is a really nice summary of the event:

The timing could not have been better. On September 15, President Obama issued an executive order: use behavioral science insights to better serve the American people.

Two days later, 70 mayors, city managers and others from 30 local governments in North Carolina gathered at a Sanford School workshop to learn about that very thing. What is behavioral science, and how can it be used to spur innovation at the local level?

As Obama’s order spelled out, research findings from fields such as behavioral economics and psychology — which analyze how people actually make decisions and act on them — can inspire better, more successful government policies.
The local officials learned from among the best in the field. Dan Ariely, professor in the Sanford School, and James B. Duke Professor of behavioral economics, has authored three best-selling books on the topic: Predictably Irrational, The Upside of Irrationality, and The Honest Truth About Dishonesty.

Peter Ubel, the Madge and Dennis T. McLawhorn University Professor of Business, Public Policy and Medicine at Duke, uses the tools of decision psychology and behavioral economics to explore health care topics like informed consent, shared decision making and health care cost containment.

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