1st Edition

Behavioural Public Policy in Australia How an Idea Became Practice

By Sarah Ball Copyright 2023

    Using rich ethnographic data and first-hand experience, Ball presents a detailed account of Australia’s attempts to incorporate behavioural insights into its public policy.

    Ball identifies three competing interpretations of behavioural public policy, and how these interpretations have influenced the use of this approach in practice. The first sees the process as an opportunity to introduce more rigorous evidence. The second interpretation focuses on increasing compliance, cost savings and cutting red tape. The last focuses on the opportunity to better involve citizens in policy design. These interpretations demonstrate different ‘solutions’ to a series of dilemmas that the Australian Public Service, and others, have confronted in the last 50 years, including growing politicisation, technocracy and a disconnect from the needs of citizens. Ball offers a detailed account of how these priorities have shaped how behavioural insights have been implemented in policy-making, as well as reflecting on the challenges facing policy work more broadly.

    An essential read for practitioners and scholars of policy-making, especially in Australia.

    1. Introduction 2. What are behavioural insights? 3. How can we understand policy-making in practice? 4. Dilemmas: Why was behavioural public policy an appealing innovation 5. The introduction of the Behavioural Economics Team 6. What does a behavioural policy team do? 7. The same name for different things? 8. The influence of traditions 9. Traditions in conflict 10. Cobbling it all together: The policy process in action 11. Behavioural insights: What happens to innovation when it travels?


    Dr. Sarah Ball is currently a lecturer at the University of Melbourne. Her research explores policy ideas and innovations, like behavioural insights and digitalisation, as they travel from idea to practice. She completed her PhD at the University of Queensland in 2020, following 5 years with the Australian Public Service.