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Behavioral insights into public management and policy

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Attempts to use behavioral insights to inform public policies and improve government operations are underway across the globe. Indeed, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has recently pointed to behavioral and cognitive sciences as viable tools for sustainable public administration (OECD 2017).

Building upon this perspective, and in line with similar initiatives in leading research institutions around the world, the Sant’Anna MeSLab has established a behavioral insights unit. The mission of this unit is to study public decision-making across policy areas, including health care and general administration. Research conducted by Paul Battaglio (show in the photo), Nicola Bellé, and Paola Cantarelli has recently appeared in Public Administration Review and has been featured by the IBM Center for The Business of Government (2019).

In particular, the article “Prospect Theory Goes Public: Experimental Evidence on Cognitive Biases in Public Policy and Management Decisions” (Bellé, Cantarelli, and Belardinelli 2018) uses data from ten randomized controlled trials on public employees and managers to illuminate systematic deviations from rational decision making across policy domains and public-sector professions. In another article, “Behavioral Public Administration ad fontes: A Synthesis of Research on Bounded Rationality, Cognitive Biases, and Nudging in Public Organizations” (Battaglio, Belardinelli, Bellé, Cantarelli 2019), Sant'Anna researchers and their international collaborators provide a systematic review of scholarship on the use of behavioral science to tackle public administration, management, and policy issues . A series of large-scale survey experiments involving several thousands of healthcare professionals are currently underway to investigate what drives their work attitudes and behaviors in a wide range of domains, such as drug prescriptions and compliance with clinical guidelines.


Battaglio Jr, R. P., Belardinelli, P., Bellé, N., & Cantarelli, P. (2019). Behavioral public administration ad fontes: A synthesis of research on bounded rationality, cognitive biases, and nudging in public organizations. Public Administration Review, 79(3), 304-320.

Bellé, N., Cantarelli, P., & Belardinelli, P. (2018). Prospect theory goes public: Experimental evidence on cognitive biases in public policy and management decisions. Public Administration Review, 78(6), 828-840.

IBM Center for The Business of Government. (2019). What Are Some Basic Behavioral Science Concepts? (, last accessed July 31, 2019).

OECD. (2017). Behavioural Insights and Public Policy. Lessons from Around the World.