Sunday, November 13, 2022

Recent Behavioural Science and Policy Links November 13th

It is still very difficult to know fully what to do about posting on twitter. I have not deleted my account. I am not actively posting. I RT'd the happy announcement of one of our PhD students passing their viva on the basis that many people on my timeline know the student and would want to celebrate. My current mood with it is basically to see this as a transition phase before something new emerges.  I have continued to engage with mastodon (link here). It has been exciting to see various people and groups move there and I highly recommend trying it out but it is clearly still open as to what function it will begin to fill. The main problem for me is that there are many people on twitter I would like to stay connected to and it is sad to just burn all of that. For now, will continue to post here on the blog and link through mastodon and Linkedin. 

1. The Behavioural Economics Guide 2022. Always incredibly detailed and informative. 

2. The i-frame and the s-frame: How focusing on individual-level solutions has led behavioral public policy astray Article by Chater and Loewenstein in Behavioural and Brain Sciences is obviously generating a lot of commentary.

Abstract: Many behavioral scientists propose and test policy interventions that seek to 'fix' problems with individual behavior (adopting an "i-frame") rather than addressing the system in which individuals operate (an "s-frame"). The impact of such i-frame interventions has been disappointing and can reduce support for much-needed systemic reforms. Highlighting individual responsibility for societal problems is a long- established objective of corporate opponents of s-frame policies such as regulation and taxation. Thus, researchers advocating i-frame solutions may have unwittingly promoted the interests of the opponents of systemic change. Behavioral scientists can best contribute to public policy by employing their skills to develop and implement value-creating system-level change.

3. Paper by Herd and Moynihan connecting the administrative burden literature to the emerging behavioural public administration literature, introducing a symposium on behavioral implications of administrative burden

The topic of administrative burden is relatively novel, but reflects people’s most common experiences of government: confusion about what is expected of them (learning costs), onerous processes (compliance costs), and associated emotions such as frustration (psychological cost). This symposium applies a behavioral perspective to the topic. We learn, for example, of the role of race and social constructions in people’s beliefs about burdens and their role in social programs. We are given evidence of how burdens restrict access to important public services. Perhaps most usefully, the authors engage with different interventions to find ways to reduce burdens. This ranges from changes in the physical space, to process redesign, to informational nudges. The resulting work provides a broad range of applied empirical insight that shines a light on a pressing area of study.

4. Anomalies or Expected Behaviors? Understanding Stated Preferences and Welfare Implications in Light of Contemporary Behavioral Theory. Enjoyed working on this paper with colleagues that attempts to bridge the stated preference literature with the emerging literature on behavioural welfare economics. 

The stated preference literature contains an expansive body of research on behavioral anomalies, typically understood as response patterns that are inconsistent with standard neoclassical choice theory. While the literature often implies that anomalous behaviors are distinct to stated preferences, widespread evidence of similar patterns across real-world settings raises the potential for an alternative interpretation. We argue that these anomalies might actually reflect behaviors that are to be expected once deviations from the standard economic model and behavioral reactions to the choice architecture in stated preference surveys are considered. The article reviews and organizes the evidence of so-called “anomalous” stated preference behaviors within the context of behavioral science to provide guidance for applied welfare economics. We coordinate evidence on these anomalies using a typology grounded in behavioral science, which groups non-standard behaviors into: non-standard preferences, non-standard beliefs, and non-standard decision-making. We apply this typology to organize the evidence, clarify nomenclature, and understand the implications of non-standard behaviors in stated preference studies for applied welfare analysis. Observing the systematic and common nature of these behaviors in actual and hypothetical settings, we outline possibilities to overcome associated challenges for applied welfare analysis, by adapting new frameworks for welfare analysis proposed within behavioral science.

5. List of most-read papers on Behavioural Public Policy here. The FORGOOD paper is still there but more generally it is fascinating list of papers and the wider journal itself is a treasure-trove for people interested in developing a behavioural public policy literature bringing disciplines such as philosophy, psychology, and economics together to understand human behaviour in policy-relevant environments. 

6. "Ten years of Automatic Enrolment in Workplace Pensions: statistics and analysis"  Recent document released by UK government. The impact of auto-enrolment on pension participation in the UK has been extraordinary. Opt-out rates in line with the low numbers anticipated by the literature that led up to it.

Next Generation Behavioural Science Simulation

Along with my colleagues at LSE Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science,  Miriam Tresh, Bradley Franks, and Chris Hunt, with support from the EDEN Centre at LSE, we have developed a simulation exercise for our students (currently focused on undergraduates) which has various titles but is coming to be known as Next Generation Behavioural Science (NGBS). NGBS is a simulated non-profit research organisation that our undergraduate students encounter in their final year as part of a course on advanced applications of behavioural science. 

Students are assessed in two ways as part of this course - firstly they put together a portfolio of all the work they have conducted on the degree so far to illustrate how their ideas and skills are relevant to the organisation. They are then hired in various capacities (research analyst, policy analyst, stakeholder liaisons) to work on a set of projects for the agency, commissioned by a fictitious global philanthropy group. All this takes place alongside a set of lectures throughout the year that examine applied behavioural science applications, as well as lectures on wider issues such as ethical and cultural aspects of applied behavioural science. There are frequent classroom discussions about the ideal quality of a behavioural science non-profit, ethical aspects of projects, the future direction of this area etc., Students are encouraged to look closely at existing applied behavioural science groups and to reflect on good practice, and their own ethical and normative stances. 

It culminates in a simulation exercise where students work off-site in groups to finalise and present their projects.   Faculty attend either as executives from NGBS or representatives from the philanthropy organisation. Students work on their presentation throughout the day and are given some prompts as to areas of focus from the organisation. It finishes with a set of presentations and then the students spend the following week finalising the reports before submission. Topics last year included applied behavioural science projects in areas such as gambling, climate change, emerging digital financial products, pensions, pandemic readiness, and others.  Some random photos from the first event held at WeWorks Canary Wharf are below. Attending this event was one of my career highlights from the education side of my job, and in general the framing of the simulation encourages students to really give their best and come up with interesting ideas and to present them well. 





In terms of giving some shape as to the future direction of behavioural science, students are provided with a reading list to give them a sense of the type of things we are trying to cultivate. An indicative reading list is below but this changes rapidly each year 

Banerjee, A., Banerji, R., Berry, J., Duflo, E., Kannan, H., Mukerji, S., ... & Walton, M. (2017). From proof of concept to scalable policies: Challenges and solutions, with an application. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 31(4), 73-102.

Bavel, J. J. V., Baicker, K., Boggio, P. S., Capraro, V., Cichocka, A., Cikara, M., ... & Willer, R. (2020). Using social and behavioural science to support COVID-19 pandemic response. Nature human behaviour, 4(5), 460-471.

Chater, N., & Loewenstein, G. (2022). The i-Frame and the s-Frame: How Focusing on the Individual-Level Solutions Has Led Behavioral Public Policy Astray. Available at SSRN 4046264.

Dolan, P., & Galizzi, M. M. (2015). Like ripples on a pond: behavioral spillovers and their implications for research and policy. Journal of Economic Psychology, 47, 1-16.

Dolan, P., Hallsworth, M., Halpern, D., King, D., & Vlaev, I. (2010). “MINDSPACE: Influencing behaviour through public policy” Institute for Government and Cabinet Office.

Lades, L. K., & Delaney, L. (2022). Nudge FORGOOD. Behavioural Public Policy, 6(1), 75-94.

Michie, S., Van Stralen, M. M., & West, R. (2011). The behaviour change wheel: a new method for characterising and designing behaviour change interventions. Implementation science, 6(1), 1-12.

Milkman, K. L., Patel, M. S., Gandhi, L., Graci, H. N., Gromet, D. M., Ho, H., ... & Duckworth, A. L. (2021). A megastudy of text-based nudges encouraging patients to get vaccinated at an upcoming doctor’s appointment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(20).

Muthukrishna, M., Bell, A. V., Henrich, J., Curtin, C. M., Gedranovich, A., McInerney, J., & Thue, B. (2020). Beyond Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) psychology: Measuring and mapping scales of cultural and psychological distance. Psychological science, 31(6), 678-701.

OECD (2017), Behavioural Insights and Public Policy: Lessons from Around the World, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264270480-en.

Friday, November 04, 2022

Social Media Updates and Alternatives to Twitter

I am using this post to keep track of a few things. 

I have joined Mastodon (https://nerdculture.de/web/@liamdelaney2020). I am still very wobbly legged using it. Though I have made progress. I have figured out mostly how to find and follow people. There are a lot of psychologists on the platform, and the open-science community in particular seems to have made a co-ordinated move there.  I am a bit worried personally about how to work with the norms of the local groups. I joined a server called nerd-culture simply because I liked the name and it was available. I am worried about whether I am intruding. It will take some time to figure it out but it is definitely worth exploring and I could easily see it becoming a replacement for twitter for scientific communities. In general the role of the individual servers on Mastodon is something that will take a lot of time for non-tech folks like me to get a strong sense of.  Linkedin also clearly is a substitute for job announcements, events, etc., and in many ways might be better for that type of thing than twitter. 

One thing that many people, including me, have realised is that google news is a reasonable replacement for the doom-scrolling function of twitter. If you want to spend a few minutes getting bombarded with info about topics or places of interests, you can quite easily set up google news to do that. It doesn't have the personalised edge of a twitter feed but it does remove the worry of losing out on being informed. I maintain subscriptions to a few national newspapers and have access to others through the university, and in general still like to buy a broadsheet newspaper. The events with twitter have made me think again about the issue of how much one should pay for media and how to spread across different types.  

I would be interested to hear more about how universities, public bodies, charities, etc., are responding to the events at twitter. There have obviously been many reports of advertisers getting jittery. It doesn't seem credible for bodies like universities to continue to post in an official capacity on twitter at a time where there is no certainty at all what is going to happen to content moderation, controls on hate spread, control on undue influence from the owner etc.,  At the very least, public bodies should be ready to elaborate their rationale for remaining on the platform. Universities will be reluctant, for good reasons, to be dragged into ideological arguments but to continue to post is in itself a position and one that potentially debases the institutions. This will likely come to a head soon anyway if they are being asked to pay to keep accounts verified. Even if the payments will be small it will create a decision point in each institution and one where mounting disquiet might come to the fore. 

Links: 

Irish Times article on alternatives to Twitter 

One of the most useful guides to Mastodon from Daniella Navarro 

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Recent behavioural science and policy links November 2nd

Like a lot of people, am thinking about how to proceed with social media. For now, am going to go back to basics and use the blog here to update on anything particularly interesting I see emerging in our areas. 

1. Michael Muthukrishna points to a really useful new measure of cultural distance between regions. 

2. From last year and open access, Nancy Cartwright's paper on rigour versus the need for evidential diversity is very thought-provoking. In general our literatures should engage more directly with her thinking in this regard. 

3. New paper by Leo Lades and Federica Nova Ethical Considerations when using Behavioural Insights to Reduce Peoples Meat Consumption Interesting use of our FORGOOD behavioural ethics framework.

4. The President’s Initiative on Junk Fees and Related Pricing Practices. Fascinating new initiative and one that we will add to reading groups in this area. 

5. Details of the 15th annual Irish economics, psychology, and policy workshop available here 

Behavioural Science Links and Updates: Twexit Edition

Below is a very long way of saying I will be posting links and updates here for the next while.

I am not sure what to make of the recent twitter take-over. The owner now seems to have full control over all aspects of the operations and is progressing a highly chaotic review of how the platform will work. I don't want to participate in something like that, at least for now. Participating in all social media, including this one I am posting on now, involves complex ethical calculations and, even before the takeover, it was getting increasingly tricky to see how much the platform needs heated engagement to be financially sustainable. 

Most basically, the tone the owner is setting is not something I want to be part of. It is not simply a matter of blocking the person. He is regularly updating on what might be transformative shifts to the platform so he is going to have a major role in setting the overall vibe. Constant shit-posting and goading of people is just bizarre behaviour and a feature of the overall world that I am amazed to see so prevalent.  I am worried that it is going to make co-operation between large groups of people increasingly difficult and at a basic level don't want to support someone like that. Anyone who has had to deal with narcissists off-line will know the fight-or-flight responses it generates.  Relatedly, it feels repugnant that one person can simply take control of a platform in such an obnoxious way. The current owner did not cause the circumstances that led to that happening but maybe he has given us a very salient wake-up call as to the problems of the public sphere being so fragile. 

The owner has obviously been very successful in other areas of life. I am  agnostic as to whether he can find a sustainable business model for the platform. A model where more people pay and folks that create particularly valuable things are remunerated doesn't sound crazy but I have absolutely no idea whether it can work on a platform where freedom of use has been a feature. Given the type of people he is interacting with and other things he has been interested in, it seems likely that cryptocurrencies in some guise will be part of the future model. One thing that is interesting is whether twitter develops significantly improved technology, including enhanced filter and edit capacities etc., I don't know whether general dislike or distrust of the owner and backers will stop people from engaging in a better technology. Popular resistance to technology changes is an interesting area to think about in terms of how this plays out. 

In terms of my own use of twitter, I guess the "golden age" was the period just after the financial crisis where many people adopted the forum and the style was quite conversational. The most useful professional function was using it to build a global research network particularly when we built our research group in Stirling. During lockdown and during two periods of moving from Ireland to UK I found twitter a way of keeping broadly in the loop with people. I have not posted very frequently in the last 18 months or so but it still feels valuable to have connections to former colleagues, students, and people in the broad networks I am involved with.  

In the last few years, it was a shock to see the amount of racist and authoritarian material constantly floating around. In general, the site became harder to relate to on a personal level and a lot of the posts started to feel contrived. Even on points where you find yourself broadly agreeing, the tone of a lot of tweets started to feel like talking points that had been pre-tested to gain emotional engagement, or that "the algorithm" itself was pushing people who had high degrees of certainty and valence about their topics. Also twitter's default mode of showing you "top tweets" meant you were often seeing talking point tweets that had been liked by other users or even posted by people that other connected users were following, frequently resulting in a sense of being overwhelmed by the noise of conversations you didn't agree to be part of. With ruthless use of the mute button, and regularly resetting your settings to chronological mode, it was still possible up to recently to produce a feed consisting of people you were learning something from and interested to hear from. Something like that is still something that a lot of people, including me, want to continue in some form. 

On broader level, I think there is a pretty urgent question for many bodies that broker to some degree in trust. Obviously there is a massive discussion happening with corporations, in particular twitter advertisers, over how twitter will protect brands in the context of the upheaval. Less discussed is whether things like universities, health agencies, public authorities, etc., should continue to participate on a platform where the owner has not yet given any serious idea on how things like fake accounts spreading obvious disinformation will be addressed. It could, in any case, be a time for different bodies to think about social media strategies. In the case of universities, is it now really the case that every university should have a verified twitter account?  

It would also be good to understand more about potential winners and losers if there is a large shift in the composition of twitter users, including in cases where it moves into decline. How many people, outside of twitter employees themselves (who I feel sympathetic toward and hope do well), rely on the platform to make a living? How many need it for basic types of expression and co-ordination that are not possible through other platforms? Are there people who particularly rely on the platform to avoid social isolation? Are there particularly serious cases emerging? At a low level, I feel guilty about losing the ability to offer encouragement to earlier career colleagues. Even something simple as liking a post about a new job or paper felt at least somewhat like creating the idea of a community of people who are broadly supportive. Instinctively, I think graduate students and early career researchers are the most resourceful when it comes to technology trends though and I expect them to find lots of ways to fulfil functions such as professional networking, corridor talk, structured procrastination. Even without the current takeover, it is probably no harm to shake it up as twitter had certainly lost any of the sense of excitement that was there in its earlier days. 

It has been an interesting time to think about alternatives. Many people in my networks have set up mastodon accounts, including me (https://nerdculture.de/web/@liamdelaney2020). I am happy to try this out and keep an open mind on where it might go. For academia, it seems to me that Linkedin is a fairly obvious focal point for things like job postings, events, etc., For those of us mildly addicted to the general chatter of twitter, Linkedin doesn't offer a substitute for that and it will be interesting to see whether people stick with and/or generally drift back to twitter, or whether something else becomes a focal point. I will be posting here for now and figuring out how to keep in touch with people. 


Saturday, July 23, 2022

Some Recent Posts

 I will use this blogpost to update on job opportunities that people send me. Obviously, no posting is an endorsement though I will try to post ones that will be interesting to the type of people who keep an eye on the blogposts. 

23rd July 2022 

Public Perceptions of Decarbonising Domestic Heat Options for Climate Change: Cardiff University School of Psychology seeks to appoint a Research Associate in the area of environmental and/or social psychology to work with Professor Nick Pidgeon (Cardiff University) and Dr Christina Demski (Bath University) on a major ongoing project as part of the UK Energy Research Centre (https://ukerc.ac.uk/). The successful candidate will administer, analyse statistically, and report a major nationally representative survey of how the public view options for the future decarbonisation of domestic heat in the UK. The research will focus upon public responses to heat decarbonisation in the light of the urgent challenge of climate change as well as the current energy bills crisis. The post would suit a statistically literate person with online survey experience (SPSS, Qualtrics) ideally nearing or recently awarded a PhD. For informal inquiries contact pidgeonn@cardiff.ac.uk or cd2076@bath.ac.uk and for post details and how to apply see Research Associate | Cardiff University (brassring.com)   

Several positions at CogCo, a really interesting new company that is employing quite a few behavioural science graduates. 


Two postdocs working with computational social science team led by Prof Taha Yasseri at UCD.

Thursday, July 07, 2022

Speaking Notes Behavioural Transformations Workshop

Below are speaker notes for a talk I gave at LSE as part of the workshop entitled "Behavioural Transformations in the 21st century" on July 7th 2022. The talk itself is interactive and not fully scripted. Hopefully the notes below will help if anyone wants to source various material or follow up on any points.

What is behavioural science? Historically. Current field definitions.

How can we incorporate well-being into the evaluation of behavioural public policy? More generally, clarifying interaction between normative foundations, evidence and practice.

How can we deal with the complexity of cultural variation? Moving beyond just pointing out the WEIRDNESS of behavioural science? Global team based science.

What are the emerging ethical issues in the integration of behavioural science? How do these manifest in public and private sectors as well as NGOs?

What issues emerge when we scale behavioural science ideas? When we go from the lab or from theory to the world, what sort of dynamic feedback loops might arise? What have we learned in this regard from covid? Social representations of behavioural science.

What structures will emerge nationally and globally in these areas? BPP Journal, IBBPA, JBPA. Professional structures BSPA, GAABS, Government networks, Private Sector Networks.

References:

Banerjee, A., Banerji, R., Berry, J., Duflo, E., Kannan, H., Mukerji, S., ... & Walton, M. (2017). From proof of concept to scalable policies: Challenges and solutions, with an application. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 31(4), 73-102.

Bavel, J. J. V., Baicker, K., Boggio, P. S., Capraro, V., Cichocka, A., Cikara, M., ... & Willer, R. (2020). Using social and behavioural science to support COVID-19 pandemic response. Nature human behaviour, 4(5), 460-471.

Chater, N., & Loewenstein, G. (2022). The i-Frame and the s-Frame: How Focusing on the Individual-Level Solutions Has Led Behavioral Public Policy Astray. Available at SSRN 4046264.

Dolan, P., & Galizzi, M. M. (2015). Like ripples on a pond: behavioral spillovers and their implications for research and policy. Journal of Economic Psychology, 47, 1-16.

Dolan, P., Hallsworth, M., Halpern, D., King, D., & Vlaev, I. (2010). “MINDSPACE: Influencing behaviour through public policy” Institute for Government and Cabinet Office.

Lades, L. K., & Delaney, L. (2022). Nudge FORGOOD. Behavioural Public Policy, 6(1), 75-94.

Michie, S., Van Stralen, M. M., & West, R. (2011). The behaviour change wheel: a new method for characterising and designing behaviour change interventions. Implementation science, 6(1), 1-12.

Milkman, K. L., Patel, M. S., Gandhi, L., Graci, H. N., Gromet, D. M., Ho, H., ... & Duckworth, A. L. (2021). A megastudy of text-based nudges encouraging patients to get vaccinated at an upcoming doctor’s appointment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(20).

Muthukrishna, M., Bell, A. V., Henrich, J., Curtin, C. M., Gedranovich, A., McInerney, J., & Thue, B. (2020). Beyond Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) psychology: Measuring and mapping scales of cultural and psychological distance. Psychological science, 31(6), 678-701.

OECD (2017), Behavioural Insights and Public Policy: Lessons from Around the World, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264270480-en.