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Behavioural Insights and Government Policy

Key information

Subject area:

Public Policy, Politics & Security

Course type:

Executive Education

Credit level:


Credit value:



4 weeks

Available course dates:

To be confirmed

Course overview

Almost all policy affects the behaviour of citizens. It could be a public information campaign developed to encourage people to eat more healthily, a new income tax proposal, or changes to the sentences or fines imposed for certain criminal offences. Within each of these areas, when thinking about how a policy should be set, we will have certain base assumptions about what the best way of setting these new policies might be in order to have the desired effect. The problem is that many of the mental models that we have about the behaviours of individuals in response to information campaigns, financial incentives or penalties, or bans or licensing of activities, are flawed.

We implicitly assume, for example, that information provided to citizens will be read, digested, and then used to change behaviour. But very often it goes unnoticed. We assume that new tax incentives will encourage people to save for their retired. But they fail to do so in ways that we hoped. And we assume that the apparently small details in the implementation of policies (such as how complex a form is to fill in) will have a negligible impact on uptake of a programme.

Behavioural science examines how people behave in practice. And then provides us with a set of tools to change the way that policy is delivered or implemented in ways that go more with the grain of human decision-making. Very often this leads us to look at ways of changing the structure of the decision-making process, rather than attempting to change the mindset of the individuals themselves.

This module provides you with a critical understanding of the core concepts in behavioural science, and how they are applied to public policy. You will learn how new interventions can improve the outcomes of policy quickly and cheaply. You will also be able to explain and critique the way that behavioural science has been applied across the world to improve policy.

What does this course cover?

Week 1: Key theories of behavioural science

This first week will focus on identifying the core theories of behavioural science. We will look at concepts such as ‘social influence,’ biases and heuristics to understand the various factors that can affect human rationality or judgement.

Week 2: Applying theories to the real world

In the second week we will begin the applying these theoretical concepts into practice. You will be able to identify biases, for example, and learn how to develop interventions based on theory and your diagnosis.

Week 3: Case studies

In this final week, we will examine two case studies to have to practical look at social influences and behavioural government as they manifest in a real-world setting. This will put into practice the concepts and insight gained from the past weeks of the module. 

What will I achieve?

Upon completion of this module, students will be able to:

  • Construct a behavioural diagnosis to understand which biases and heuristics (if any) are relevant to a particular policy problem.
  • Develop, and evaluate the limitations of, interventions based on diagnoses.
  • Design and apply randomised controlled trials to test these interventions.

Who will I learn with?

Michael Sanders

Michael Sanders

Professor of Public Policy

Olga Siemers

Olga Siemers

Senior Lecturer in Public Policy

Who is this for?

This short course is for mid-career professionals. Standard entry requirements are a 2:1 degree plus 3 years of relevant work experience. Applicants without a 2:1 or higher degree are welcome to apply and typically require 5+ years of relevant work experience.

How will I be assessed?

One written assignment, plus participation in webinars and discussion forums.

Our modules offer high levels of interaction with regular points of assessment and feedback. Each four week module is worth five Master's level academic credits and includes three webinars with a King's lecturer and peer group of global professionals.

What is the teaching schedule?

Format: Fully online, plus 3 x 1-hour weekly webinars

This module has been designed specifically for an online audience. It uses a range of interactive activities to support learning including discussion forums, online readings, interactive lectures videos and online tutorials.

Fees and discounts

Tuition fees may be subject to additional increases in subsequent years of study, in line with King’s terms and conditions.

Further information

Module Creator

Dr Michael Sanders, Reader in Public Policy at the Policy Institute, where he works on a part-time basis. His main job is as Executive Director of the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care. He was previously Chief Scientist and Director of Research, Evaluation and Social Action at the Behavioural Insights Team, where he worked on the design and analysis of randomised controlled trials, as well as the use of quasi-experimental methods and data science.

Please note that this is only indicative information. Lecturers and course content are subject to change. Please contact us directly for the most recent information.

Course status:

Places available

Full fee £950

Express interest

Discounts available

See all available discounts

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