Panel 116 - How the Sciences of Human Behaviour Can Help Us Put Knowledge at the Heart of Policymaking

Conference Day: 
Day 1 - November 13th 2019
Takeaways and recommendations: 

How the Sciences of Human Behaviour Can Help Us Put Knowledge at the Heart of Policymaking

Organized by: European Commission’s Joint Research Centre

Speakers: Elizabeth Hardy, Senior Lead, Behavioural Insights, Impact and Innovation Unit, Privy Council Office; Laura Smillie, Project Leader of the European Commission’s Enlightenment 2.0 Research Programme; James Owen Weatherall, Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science at the University of California; Nat Rabb, Researcher, The Policy Lab at Brown University

Moderator: Kristiann Allen, Senior Investigator, Centre for Science in Policy, Diplomacy and Society (SciPoDS), University of Auckland


  1. We need a new model for incorporating science into decision making.

  2. Science is value-laden. A central problem has been how to square the ways science should have epistemic authority with the ways it is value-laden.  

  3. Ideological group membership is a strong predictor of decision making. 

  4. The erosion of trust in governments, experts and scientific evidence can only be addressed by greater honesty and public deliberation about interests and values.  

  5. Human behaviour is at the heart of political decision making. Studying it and taking it into account results in better long-term policymaking.

  6. The evolution of “behavioural insights” practice must include a multidisciplinary approach. 

  7. The Privy Council Office’s Impact and Innovation Unit, which focuses on behavioural insights, has found a gap between policy development and program implementation.

  8. Important to use qualitative methods alongside quantitative methods to measure impact.

  9. We can’t separate emotion from reason. Emotions are central to decision making and must be integrated into policymaking.

  10. Better data about our emotions and greater emotional literacy could improve policymaking. We must find ways to integrate and nurture them. 

Suggested Actions:

  1. We need to think hard about how to foster ethical science communication and design institutions (like social media platforms and science communication organizations) that can more effectively moderate how information spreads.

  2. We need to build in more effective, consistent ways of measuring across organizations, governments or countries on what works and what doesn’t work in policymaking.

  3. We must increase our tolerance for risk at the bureaucratic and senior leadership levels.  

  4. A human-centric approach to policy is needed to challenge the classical policy cycle. The approach must increase empathy and inclusiveness and have an understanding of stakeholders’ values and identities.