BETA: working for all of us … sure

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:

BEHAVIOURAL ECONOMICS

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.

MISSION

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.

PROJECTS

BETA is committed to being open and transparent about the work that we do. We are working across government on a range of projects to trial the use of behavioural economics.

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:

KEY DATES & PROGRESS (zero)

News
29 June 2017

BETA report: Going blind to see more clearly

The Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government (BETA) have released their second report.
News
16 May 2017

BETA’s first report

The 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 Booklet
15 May 2017

Supporting retirees in retirement income planning

This study examined how people respond to a new income plan for retirement, known as a Comprehensive Income Product for Retirement (CIPR).
News
11 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.
News
February 2016

Spotlight on Prof Michael J Hiscox

Professor Michael J. Hiscox will head up the Australian Government’s first central Behavioural Economics Team (BETA).
Media release
February 2016

BETA starts work in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

The Australian Government’s first central unit dedicated to the application of behavioural sciences in public policy has been launched within PM&C.
Speech
23 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.’
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25 Responses to BETA: working for all of us … sure

  1. Roger

    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.

    A couple of big assumptions there, Judith.

  2. Roger

    And if I may…please don’t look so grumpy when on The Dumb. Smile when John Barron introduces you!

    🙂

  3. Some History

    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.

    Traditional policy makers assume people government 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 is rarely the case. BETA is a good example.

  4. Squirrel

    “Rather than expecting people to redesign their lives around government, our work encourages people-centred design, which means simpler, clearer and faster public services.”

    Sounds nice, but this has “bureaucratic turf war” written all over it, so even the wide-eyed optimists should not expect too much – the experience of the (Office of the ) Economic Planning Advisory Council would be a guide, of sorts, to how bureaucratic rivals will deal with this.

  5. H B Bear

    FOAD nudge nannies.

  6. Procrustes

    Squirrel – I think your comparison to the EPAC experience is not quite right.

    While at the time there were plenty of agencies having a decent crack at EPAC for its contingent valuation of Kakadu and other such nonsense, the current bureaucracy sees BETA as a new gravy train. It’s now about finding new types of cognitive failure that will allow bureaucrats in almost any department to sprinkle behavioural science pixie dust over the interventionist policies that they always wanted to do.

    The bureaucrats themselves suffer from a lot of failures (motivated reasoning, the illusion of competence, the availability heuristic) that don’t equip them well to design and deliver such policies PLUS they don’t have skin in the game. This means that when they screw up it is their innocent victims that suffer and not themselves.

    Between government capture by rent seekers (public choice theory) and incompetence in decision making (behavioural science applied to the public sector) it doesn’t leave many things that government is actually any good at doing.

  7. egg_

    To be superseded by CRAP – Cultural Research And Policy.

  8. Bob in Castlemaine

    Maybe I’m showing my ageing, white, maleness but I thought everyone knew that BETA was superseded by VHS that in turn rendered obsolete by DVD and now of course we have Netflix. Social engineering, a la Ministry of Thought, is obviously close to the heart of our “sensible centre” PM but like most socialists he has no concept of nor interest in the aspirations of the common man to be left alone to run his own his life.

  9. cynical1

    Orwell was a tad optimistic about the future, it seems.

  10. Art Vandelay

    23 November 2015
    Senator Scott Ryan announces establishment of BETA

    Given that government decision-making processes are incredibly slow and the fact Abbott was deposed in late September 2015, I’d say that the proposal for establishing BETA was initiated while he was still PM. (Unless anyone can shed more light on this?)

    This is yet more evidence that the supposedly conservative wing of the Liberal Party is not interested in small government, freedom and individual liberty.

  11. Jannie

    Cynic1, you have just touched on the meme for the time. People don’t quite get the meaning of phrase “Murphy was an optimist”.

    However, Orwell was an optimist kind of rings bells.

  12. Malcolm Thomas

    BETA lies or at least misleads when it says that ‘Traditional policy makers asume that people will always make the best deviation possible, and have no shortage of wile or brain power.’

    In fact, policy makers have relaxed the full rationality assumption frequently over the years – and much policy is premised on the opposite sssumption.

  13. H B Bear

    Anyone wanting to look at the quality of governmental decision making and their professional advisers should take a look at diesel cars in Europe.

  14. Infidel Tiger 2.0 (Premium Content Subscribers Only)

    There is often a gap between what people intend to do and what they actually end up doing.

    People have been saying they want to destroy the Liberal Party, but s significant minority still vote for the xunts.

    This ends now.

  15. jonesy

    Adds a whole new meaning to BETA testing….

  16. Adelagado

    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.

    Once upon a time we expected politicians to be able to work this out for themselves by bringing their own real world experience to the table. Or by mixing with people outside the political class.

    Neither happens anymore.

    That we

  17. Des Deskperson

    “BETA report: Going blind to see more clearly”

    As I indicated on another thread, the conclusions of this BETA study are so bizarre that they are either satirical or they have somehow slipped through a rift in the time/space continuum from some parallel universe.

    It concludes, in effect, that measures aimed at ensuring a more objective assessment of candidates for engagement or promotion in the APS are bad because they eliminate an existing cultural bias – born no doubt of moral cowardice, although the study doesn’t of course say this – in favour of women and ‘ethnics’.

    ‘Diversity’, in other words, should be more important than the ability to do the job funded by the taxpayer. Well, at least they are up-front, even though the current biases they detect and support are unlawful under the Public Service Act.

  18. JohnA

    Sounds like the corporate version of Agnes Moorhouse in “Yes, Prime Minister” Real Democracy (approx title).
    “The poor don’t understand their needs. They need guidance!”

  19. The garbage bins have ‘goes to landfill’ roughly stickytaped to them and ‘how to wash your hands’ stuck up in the toilets. No one would have guessed otherwise.

    The confusing one is organic waste ‘goodness returned to the soil’ which is more than a little similar to the first. But that might be my ‘unconscious bias’…

  20. Combine Dave

    Infidel Tiger 2.0 (Premium Content Subscribers Only)
    #2438242, posted on July 11, 2017 at 6:53 pm
    There is often a gap between what people intend to do and what they actually end up doing.

    People have been saying they want to destroy the Liberal Party, but s significant minority still vote for the xunts.

    This ends now.

    I was young and naive.

    But no longer.

    When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

    Good bye Turdbull.

    It’s LDP and assorted freedom lovers all the way!

  21. cohenite

    What fucking business does government have making assumptions about the decision making processes of citizens; as long as the said citizens do not break the laws government can fuck off.

  22. old bloke

    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.

    This is a false assumption. People can’t make the “best decision possible” when the government dictates what options (if any) are available.

    To wit, I want to lower my electricity costs by choosing low cost fossil fuel generated electricity (my “best decision”), but this is impossible due to government mandate.

  23. notaluvvie

    This is the classic “Nudge Unit” concept so beloved of Their ALPBC, the CBC, NPR and other leftie luvvie “progressive” commentators. The APS will love this stuff because it will mean more meetings, posters and seminars, so no real work (work! as Maynard G Krebbs would say) will be done. All great bureaucratic and socialist mind control stuff.

    Which reminds me, how did the Not Bloody Needed socialist realism art poster contest of a few years ago turn out? Anybody know?

  24. Peted

    In the paper they were reporting on emails from the tax office encouraging people to delay lodging their returns until the forms could be prefilled.

    Led to a 20% increase in first week lodgement.

    Nudged well.

  25. struth

    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.

    Good god.

    The left has zero self awareness.

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