It's time we put agency into Behavioural Public Policy

Sanchayan Banerjee*, Till Grüne-Yanoff, Peter John, Alice Moseley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Promoting agency - people's ability to form intentions and to act on them freely - must become a primary objective for Behavioural Public Policy (BPP). Contemporary BPPs do not directly pursue this objective, which is problematic for many reasons. From an ethical perspective, goals like personal autonomy and individual freedom cannot be realised without nurturing citizens' agency. From an efficacy standpoint, BPPs that override agency - for example, by activating automatic psychological processes - leave citizens 'in the dark', incapable of internalising and owning the process of behaviour change. This may contribute to non-persistent treatment effects, compensatory negative spillovers or psychological reactance and backfiring effects. In this paper, we argue agency-enhancing BPPs can alleviate these ethical and efficacy limitations to longer-lasting and meaningful behaviour change. We set out philosophical arguments to help us understand and conceptualise agency. Then, we review three alternative agency-enhancing behavioural frameworks: (1) boosts to enhance people's competences to make better decisions; (2) debiasing to encourage people to reduce the tendency for automatic, impulsive responses; and (3) nudge+ to enable citizens to think alongside nudges and evaluate them transparently. Using a multi-dimensional framework, we highlight differences in their workings, which offer comparative insights and complementarities in their use. We discuss limitations of agency-enhancing BPPs and map out future research directions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBehavioural Public Policy
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2024

Keywords

  • agency
  • boosts
  • BPP
  • debiasing
  • nudge+

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