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Behavioural insights

Behavioural Insights

Behavioural insights involves the study of human behaviour, often drawing on empirical research in fields including economics, psychology and sociology.

On this page:

Why you should use it
What it involves
What you will get out of it
Ideal circumstances for use
References, guides and key readings
Tools or concepts
Centres of expertise
Community of practice

Why you should use it

Behavioural insights can be useful in a policy context to:

  • identify the behavioural factors and biases affecting people’s choices
  • develop options for designing future policy that is informed by evidence of human and organisational behaviour
  • consider the new levers (for example nudges) or support the use of new or existing levers to achieve policy goals.
  • understand how people and organisations actually behave, to help design and implement more effective or targeted policies.

Behavioural insights are most commonly applied in regulatory policy, but can be applied more widely.

What it involves

Applying behavioural insights can produce in the following outputs:

  • Behavioural model – a contribution to the review or evaluation of policy approaches from the lens of individual, group or organisational behaviour, including identification of relevant behavioural factors and biases.
  • Behavioural hypothesis – a theory about what drives individuals, groups or organisations to act in a given circumstance.
  • Behavioural policy design – changes to policy settings or levers that can be controlled by government to produce desirable change through targeting individual, group or organisational behaviour (for future testing).
  • These outputs help you understand the role that behaviour plays in policy outcomes. They enable you to compare the likely impacts of new levers with those of other traditional legislative or regulatory approaches, or other incentive-based approaches and drivers.

What you will get out of it

  • Policies that are based on how people or organisation actually behave.
  • Results that are lower-cost, more targeted and higher impact than many alternative methods.
  • Innovative proposals that challenge existing assumptions.

Ideal circumstances for use

  • You are seeking to better understand or change the behaviour of people, groups or organisations.
  • You want to understand an issue or situation from the perspective of end-users.
  • You are working in an early stage of policy development, where the problem and its causes are not fully understood.
  • Previous policies, incentives or approaches in your context have underperformed, but there is no general consensus on why.


Behavioural theory may not be suited to circumstances in which:

  • your policy content does not relate heavily to human or organisational behaviour, or the problem has already been narrowly defined to exclude behavioural factors.
  • you are not in a position to analyse end-user behaviour (for example due to ethical concerns or timeframes).
  • you are unable to test or trial your hypotheses before implementation (although it may be worthwhile considering the behavioural perspective as part of evaluation).
  • you are limited in the policy responses or levers that can be used.

References, guides and key readings

Behavioural Insights and Public Policy: Lessons from Around the World - OECD, 2017 – includes case study examples of applications for behavioural insights to public policy and service delivery initiatives from around the world.

Behaviour Change Wheel - University College, UK – Practical guide to designing interventions involving behavioural change based on a range of behavioural frameworks.

MINDSPACE - UK Behavioural Insights Team, 2010.

Behavioural Insights Workshop - GEN 2016, Lee McCauley Behavioural Insights Team.

Behavioural Insights Applied to Policy - European Commission report, including a focus on the organisational structures and resources required for improving the uptake of behavioural insights.

Mind, Society and Behaviour - World Bank report into applying behavioural insights in policy, including case studies.

Tools or concepts

EAST Framework - Practical tool for policy practitioners to consider applying behavioural insights in their work.

Behavioural Insights for Education - Guide for education policy practitioners to consider the impacts that can be delivered by changing what parents, teachers and children say and do.

Behavioural Insights for Health - Guide for health policy practitioners to consider the role of behavioural insights in delivering better health outcomes at a lower cost.

Journey mapping

Centres of expertise

Behavioural Insights Team - Wellington consultancy office based in Sydney, Australia.

Behavioural Insights Unit - Department of the Premier & Cabinet, Victoria, Australia.

Behavioural Insights Unit - Department of the Premier & Cabinet, New South Wales, Australia – linked to Behavioural Insights Team.

Behavioural Economics Team - Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australia.

Community of practice

New Zealand Behavioural Insights Team
Email Dr Marcos Pelenur at to be included in future 'community of practice' emails and events.

NZ Interagency Behavioural Insights Group (natural resource sector focus):


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Last updated: 
Wednesday, 16 August 2017

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