Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Government-focused series kicks off with talk on big impact of little changes

Government-focused series kicks off with talk on big impact of little changes

More than 20 public-sector employees attended the first Behavioral Insights for Government (BIG) lecture series sponsored by the La Follette School of Public Affairs and the Behavioral Research Insights through Experiments (BRITE) Lab at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

The new series brings to state and local policymakers the practical lessons from behavioral economics and public administration. La Follette School Director Don Moynihan and Justin Sydnor, an associate professor in the Department of Risk and Insurance at the Wisconsin School of Business, are coordinating the series.

On March 7 at the City County Building, Elizabeth Linos of The Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) North America discussed her practical experience in using experiments to improve public sector performance in the United Kingdom (U.K.) and United States.

Her presentation, Applying Behavioral Insights in Government, addressed several topics, including Madison’s designation as a What Works City. The Bloomberg Philanthropies’ initiative helps mid-sized U.S. cities build on existing innovation by helping mayors and local leaders use data and evidence to engage the public, make government more effective, and improve people’s lives. Partnering with Bloomberg Philanthropies, Linos and colleagues at BIT North America provide technical assistance to What Works cities.

Linos shared examples of BIT’s work with Denver County’s Motor Vehicle Department to increase online license plate renewals, the city of Lexington, Kentucky, to recover unpaid sewer bill revenue, and other entities to test low- or zero-cost interventions that change behaviors. “Tiny changes can make a big difference,” she said.

Following her 40-minute presentation, Linos answered questions from the audience, which included Enis Ragland, Madison’s deputy mayor for administration and finance. A video of the hour-long event is on the City of Madison website

Linos also presented Nudging Diversity: Field Experiments in Police Recruiting earlier in the day as part of the La Follette School Seminar Series. Attendees included Madison Police Chief Mike Koval as well as La Follette School faculty, students, and staff. The Jean Monnet EU Center of Excellence and the Center for European Studies at UW-Madison sponsored Linos’ visit.

The next BIG lecture will feature Oliver James, who will share his research on how citizens and service-users understand and react to performance data about their government, especially to inform political voice and user choice of public services. A professor of political science at the University of Exeter, U.K., James will speak from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday, April 5 in Room 354 at the City County Building, 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Kara Kratowicz, who received her bachelor’s degree in sociology (2007) and master’s degree in social work (2009) from UW–Madison helped Moynihan and Sydnor organize the new series. She is a data projects coordinator for the city of Madison.