At the recent cross-government Behavioural Insights (BI) network conference, delegates were introduced to the idea of theories of practice as a way of framing policy making for behaviour change. BI network members design and test policies using principles from behavioural economics, which is as far removed from the sociological routes of ‘practice’ as it is possible to be. However, the limits of behavioural economics for achieving meaningful behaviour change are well documented. For example, critics have highlighted its narrow scope and low ambition in the face of intractable problems such as climate change and obesity.
Theories of practice underpin the work of an increasingly large number of academics who aim for systemic, cultural change, not just better choices. Some government social researchers (GSRs) are aware of the ‘practice’ approach, although the lack of evidence base has so far stunted its adoption. However, most GSRs are unfamiliar with its potential.
Rhys Jones and Mark Whitehead, Aberystwyth University, and Jessica Pykett, Birmingham University discuss their article, Psychological governance and behaviour change which was published in Policy & Politics in 2013, and is available free during May 2014.
‘Behaviour Change’ has become a familiar term in UK public policy. This trend indicates the growing influence of the behavioural sciences (including behavioural economics, social psychology and, to a certain extent, neuroscience disciplines) on UK policy making communities in a range of sectors –from personal finance, through public health, to environmental communications. Our work to date has involved a policy ethnography of the emergence and rise of Behaviour Change as an agenda for governance which embeds behavioural insights into public policy design and delivery. We are now investigating the significance of the UK as a policy laboratory for these behavioural forms of governance, as the Behaviour Change agenda spreads internationally. We have identified hundreds of countries in which Behaviour Change initiatives are commonplace as well as several nations in which Behaviour Change has become a centrally-orchestrated programme for governance. Continue reading →