Nudge Thinking: Cure-all or all too hard?

Keynote by Harvard Professor, Michael Hiscox

Events - 21 Mar 2017

Visiting Harvard Professor,  Michael Hiscox, was keynote speaker for this session. Prof. Hiscox is presently on secondment to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet where he has established the Behavioural Economics Team (BETA). Our expert panel provided delegates with the latest insights into applying behavioural economics, or nudge thinking, in the public sector. 

Here in Western Australian a number of agencies undertake behaviour change projects on a daily basis. ‘Nudge’ thinking offers those organisations and many more besides the opportunity to improve the effectiveness of their work.

Nudge draws on research from behavioural economics, psychology, and neuroscience to understand how humans behave and make decisions in everyday life. By better understanding how people respond to different contexts and incentives, decision-makers can design and implement better policies and services.

Public servants engaged in policymaking need to develop a set of skills and tools that are adaptive and responsive to the complexity of modern policy issues.   Behavioural economics provides new tools for policy development, implementation and engagement that are well aligned with modern policy challenges.

Nudge has been trialled in a wide range of policy areas including water consumption, taxation, and health across a number different of different countries. It promises much but is it worth the effort? 


  • Behaviour change
  • Behavioural insights
  • Behavioural economics
  • Nudge thinking
  • Decision making theory
  • Public policy


Keynote Speaker

Michael J. Hiscox 
Clarence Dillon Professor of International Affairs, Harvard University

Michael Hiscox Leads the Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government (BETA). He is currently on public service leave from his position as the Clarence Dillon Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University.  He was born and raised in Tamworth, NSW.

He is a founding faculty member of the Harvard Behavioural Insights Group – a group of more than 30 of Harvard’s research scholars - at Harvard’s Centre for Public Leadership. 

He is co-director of the Sustainability, Transparency, and Accountability Research Lab - part of the Harvard Behavioural Insights Group with bases in Harvard and Sydney. He is also a faculty associate at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and the Harvard University Center for the Environment. 

Working with governments, non-profit organizations, and corporations, he has designed and implemented randomized trials to evaluate a large range of government policies, company initiatives, and programs administered by non-profit organizations in the United States, Singapore, Indonesia, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and Nigeria.

His research has examined international trade and immigration, economic development, global supply chains, corporate responsibility and sustainability initiatives, and policies addressing economic, social, and public health issues in several countries.

He has written numerous articles for leading scholarly journals in economics and political science (including the Review of Economics and Statistics, the Journal of International Economics, Economics and Politics, and the American Political Science Review).


Prof. David Butler
Murdoch University

David Butler is Professor of Economics at Murdoch University and is currently teaching Western Australia’s only behavioural economics class for public policy.

David studied for his Bachelors and Masters degrees at the University of York, UK, and obtained his PhD from UWA. He has previously taught at UWA and the University of Arizona. His research interests are in experimental economics, decision theory and behavioural game theory. He is a former President of the WA branch of the Australian Economic Society.

His research integrates techniques from such disciplines as experimental and cognitive psychology, evolutionary theory and philosophy into experimental economics research and behavioural game theory. Particular research interests include consequences of imprecise preferences and pro-social behaviour in experimental games. 

Dr Katie Attwell
Capstone Coordinator, Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy and International Affairs

Dr Katie Attwell is a political science academic with the Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy and International Affairs, and an Honorary Research Fellow of Telethon Kids Institute. She researches policy and communication strategies for engaging with vaccine hesitancy in parents and health professionals. She conceived and directed the innovative “I Immunise” social marketing campaign by the Immunisation Alliance of WA.


Michelle Prior
Manager Congestion Programs, Transport Strategy and Reform, Department of Transport

Denise Sullivan
Director, Chronic Disease Prevention Directorate, Department of Health