Getting evidence into the policy through the back door: How Behavioural Insights popularised the use of Randomised Controlled Trials in public policy


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Elise Kalokerinos

Despite some (and arguably, modest) successes in medicine, evidence-based policy used to be a pipe dream. Evidence from the social sciences was rarely implemented into public policy. From outside government this can be maddening. If we know the answer to a question, why won’t the policy be used? From the inside of government being told that we already know the answer and just need to get on with it can be equally frustrating.

The experiences from Behavioural Insights (BI) Units or ‘Nudge Units’ may elucidate some of the issues in narrowing the evidence-practice gap. Hundreds of Behavioural Insights Units have been established in governments across the globe, charged with the application of the Behavioural Sciences to public policy. These units have run numerous trials across all policy domains and developed thousands of interventions. By working in central government, these units have an acute understanding of where the trade-offs that do and don’t lead to evidence-based policy lie.

In this colloquium, we will describe some of the factors that have helped Behavioural Insights Units run randomised controlled trials in policy settings and ensure that the results of these trials are scaled. We will also discuss the difficulties and opportunities in developing evidence during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Speaker Bio

Dr. Alex Gyani is the APAC Director of Research and Methodology at the Behavioural Insights Team. He has been based in Sydney since 2014 and oversees the team’s research and evaluation work across Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. Since joining the team in 2012, he has worked in a diverse set of fields from domestic violence, energy regulation, health system efficiency, obesity, financial regulation, employment services to education. He has supported his team to run over 50 trials in 5 years and developed approaches to integrate machine learning and implementation science into Behavioural Insights trials. His PhD focused on encouraging people with anxiety and depression to seek treatment using a mobile phone app and encouraging psychological therapists to use evidence-based treatments. In 2018, he was named one of Apolitical’s 100 Future Government Leaders.

Zoom link available via MSPS School Colloquium mailing list. To be added to this list or for the link to this talk, please email Dr. Elise Kalokerinos.