I had forgotten about this appalling and expensive initiative – BETA: the behavioural economics team of Australia!
The basic idea is that us dumb citizens don’t know what is in our interests so we must be nudged by all-knowing public servants to alter our behaviour in ways the government sees as desirable.
If you think this sounds Orwellian or downright sinister, you are not wrong.
But you can just imagine innovative Malcolm Turnbull falling for this bullshit. It’s just the kind of oppressive mumbo-jumbo that appeal to him.
So if we are looking for savings, and surely a government committed to freedom is, then this is an easy unit to eliminate. And now.
Here’s the blurb:
We are the Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government, or BETA.
We are the Australian Government’s central unit for behavioural economics in public policy. Headed up by Professor Michael Hiscox, we use economics, science and psychology to improve policy outcomes.
Rather than expecting people to redesign their lives around government, our work encourages people-centred design, which means simpler, clearer and faster public services.
BETA’s mission is to build behavioural economics capability across the public service and drive its use in policy design by testing what works, where and in what context.
To do this, we work with our partner agencies to:
- build APS capability to support greater use of behavioural economics in policy-making
- provide behavioural economics expertise on a number of projects that apply and test policy, programme and administrative designs
- establish links between the APS and the behavioural economics research and practitioner community, here and overseas.
We aim to disclose our trials and their methods ahead of time. Once a trial is complete, we aim to make our findings public. Trials will be marked as ‘Completed’ once the results become available, via downloadable reports.
These practices will ensure greater accountability and transparency. They will also facilitate the sharing of knowledge with our fellow researchers and other interested parties.
WHY WE NEED A BEHAVIOURAL ECONOMICS TEAM (we don’t)
Traditional policy makers assume people will always make the best decision possible, and have no shortage of willpower or brain power. However, research and evidence tells us this isn’t always the case.
There is often a gap between what people intend to do and what they actually end up doing. For example, we know when people are in ‘auto-pilot’ they will often use shortcuts and prefer to rely on stereotypes. In other cases people won’t act on their best intentions because they feel overloaded with choices.
That’s why it’s important to put real human behaviour at the centre of policy and programme design. Designing policy should be based on a sound understanding of human behaviour. This goes hand-in-hand with BETA’s commitment to test those designs, building our understanding of what works and when we need to adapt our approach.
We are making sure our government policies, programmes and services reflect real decision-making and achieve the best possible outcomes for Australians.
Experience has shown that inexpensive improvements based on a better understanding of human behaviour can increase efficiency within the public service and help people put their good intentions into action. Initiatives like plain packaging of cigarettes, mysuper and pre-filled tax forms were designed with real human behaviour in mind.
In NSW, behavioural economics helped to get injured workers back to health and work more quickly by simplifying processes, using positive messaging and personal commitment techniques.
In the UK, behavioural economics helped people realise their intention to register as an organ donor.
WHO WE WORK WITH
BETA started work in PM&C on 1 February 2016 as a joint initiative across the Australian Government. Our partner agencies include:
- Attorney-General’s Department
- Department of Agriculture and Water Resources
- Department of Communications and the Arts
- Department of Education and Training
- Department of Employment
- Department of the Environment and Energy
- Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
- Department of Health
- Department of Human Services
- Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development
- Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
- Department of Social Services
- Australian Public Service Commission
- Australian Taxation Office
- The Treasury
- National Disability Insurance Agency
- Department of Industry, Innovation and Science
- Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman
- Department of Veterans’ Affairs
KEY DATES & PROGRESS (zero)
News29 June 2017
BETA report: Going blind to see more clearlyThe Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government (BETA) have released their second report.News16 May 2017
BETA’s first reportThe Behavioural Economics Team Australia (BETA) have released their first report. Over the last year, BETA have been working in partnership with the Treasury and five Australian superannuation funds to survey superannuants aged 45 and over.Book or Booklet15 May 2017
Supporting retirees in retirement income planningThis study examined how people respond to a new income plan for retirement, known as a Comprehensive Income Product for Retirement (CIPR).News11 May 2017
BETA design for better policy: BETA extension secured in the 2017-18 Budget (what a pity)We are excited to announce that BETA has secured funding over the next three years to extend our mission. The commitment, delivered under the Public Service Modernisation Fund, will enable us to continue improving public policy and service delivery.News1 February 2016
Spotlight on Prof Michael J HiscoxProfessor Michael J. Hiscox will head up the Australian Government’s first central Behavioural Economics Team (BETA).Media release1 February 2016
BETA starts work in the Department of the Prime Minister and CabinetThe Australian Government’s first central unit dedicated to the application of behavioural sciences in public policy has been launched within PM&C.
Speech23 November 2015
Senator Scott Ryan announces establishment of BETA‘Insights from the behavioural sciences have been successfully applied in public policy development internationally and here in Australia, and it is an area we are keen to further explore.’