Monday, September 21, 2015

US to use “behavioral science” methods to improve govt schemes; will New Delhi borrow the concept?

India's PM Narendra Modi with Obama in New Delhi (File photo)
US President Barack Obama’s executive order last week to make use of “behavioral science” methods to improve effectiveness of government programmes, may find takers among nations, as many a government around the world including that in India often scouts for innovative solutions to design better government policies. Obama’s September 15 directive, as released by the White House, said…
how a growing body of evidence has demonstrated that behavioral science insights -- research findings from fields such as behavioral economics and psychology about how people make decisions and act on them -- can be used to design government policies to “better serve the American people”.
Giving live examples of how “automatic enrollment and automatic escalation in retirement savings plans have made it easier to save for the future, and have helped Americans accumulate billions of dollars in additional retirement savings” the order said, behavioral science insights can support a range of national priorities, including helping workers to find better jobs; enabling people to lead longer, healthier lives; improving access to educational opportunities and support for success in school; and accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy. In another example, it said how streamlining the application process for Federal financial aid has made college more financially accessible for millions of students.
“To more fully realize the benefits of behavioral insights and deliver better results at a lower cost for the American people, the Federal Government should design its policies and programs to reflect our best understanding of how people engage with, participate in, use, and respond to those policies and programs”, the order further said.
The US President in that order directed government agencies to identify policies, programmes, and operations where applying behavioral science insights may yield substantial improvements in public welfare, programme outcomes, and programme cost effectiveness. The Federal government may now recruit behavioral science experts to implement the new thought process.
It is also said in the order that Social and Behavioral Sciences Team (SBST), under the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) and chaired by the assistant to the President for science and technology, shall provide agencies with advice and policy guidance to help them execute the policy objectives.
Significantly, an Indian American -- Maya Shankar who did PhD from the University of Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, is the Senior Advisor for the Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Office of Science and Technology Policy under Obama administration. Media reports call her the “nudge czar”. The “nudge”, as reportedly in various reports, is a small change that helps consumers make better economic decisions without affecting freedom of choice. For example, when letters were sent to late taxpayers in UK with a simple statistics that ‘9 out of 10 people in Britain paid their taxes on time’, there was an instant  surge in tax payment by the potential defaulters resulting in extra annual revenues. This is what “nudge” is all about.
The question is: will the cabinet secretariat or the prime minister’s office (PMO) in India experiment a similar “nudge” policy? Just wait and watch. This could potentially be a global trend, and India too may use behavioral science methods to improve its own sarkari schemes.

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