Behavioural Sciences and Public Policy

November 24 – November 26 2021, 9 AM – 5PM

Prof. Dr. Lars Tummers 
Guest lecturers:  
Prof. Elisabeth Linos, University of California, Berkeley 
Dr. Michael Sanders, Kings College London &  Director of the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care 
Dr. Sarah Giest, Leiden University
Niek Verlaan MSc, Municipality of Utrecht

Course fees

  • Free for NIG members
  • 500,- for non-members from an NIG member institution
  • 750,- for third parties

Governments and public organizations often use behavioral science to tackle societal problems. For instance, Utrecht University has made a vegetarian lunch the default choice. If you want meat, you have to order it. This can reduce meat consumption. This is just one of many examples. Others include organ donation, corona communication, and recruiting government workers. Public administration practitioners are working with behavioral science and scholars taking a keen interest. This is shown by the rise of the subfield behavioral public administration. In this course, we analyze how behavioral science can be used in public policy and administration. You will discuss whether behavioral interventions are effective (does it work?), but also whether and when it is appropriate (do citizens accept it?), and ethical (should government do it?). Furthermore, you will also learn how to apply insights from behavioral public administration in your PhD project.

After this course, participants can:

  • Understand concepts and debates in behavioral public administration and related disciplines such as political psychology and behavioral economics.
  • Critically reflect on the effectiveness, appropriateness, and ethics of changing the behavior of citizens.
  • Use behavioral public administration and more generally behavioral science in their PhD project.


The preparation consists of a short paper where you reflect on how to use behavioral public administration in your PhD research. You will present this paper during the course. Furthermore, you will also be asked to present a topic in the course, such as nudging, performance, or resistance to change. To have a lively conversation and maximize learning, we also ask you to read the required reading material and be present during all three days.

Literature includes (provisional reading list, full list will be circulated 4 weeks before the start of the course):

  • Benartzi, S., Beshears, J., Milkman, K. L., Sunstein, C. R., Thaler, R. H., Shankar, M., … & Galing, S. (2017). Should governments invest more in nudging?. Psychological science, 28(8), 1041-1055.
  • Grimmelikhuijsen, Stephan, Jilke, Sebastian, Olsen, Asmus and Lars Tummers. (2017). Behavioral Public Administration: Combining Insights from Public Administration and Psychology. Public Administration Review, 77(1): 45-56.
  • Linos, E. (2018). More than public service: A field experiment on job advertisements and diversity in the police. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 28(1), 67-85.
  • Tummers, L. (2019). Public policy and behavior change. Public Administration Review, 79(6), 925-930.

You will pass this course if – within the stated deadlines – you submit a short paper (1,000 words) where you reflect on how to use behavioral public administration in your PhD research, present about this paper during the course, present a topic in the course, such as nudging, performance, or resistance to change. You can also read the required reading material and present during all three days. We are looking forward to a lively course.