Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs

The Behavioral Insights for Government (BIG) lecture series brings to policymakers the practical lessons from behavioral economics and public administration.

Behavioral economics, which applies insights from psychology to better understand the roots of human behavior, is starting to influence the practice of public management. Approximately 25 people from state and local government participated in each lecture during the pilot series.

La Follette School Director and Professor Don Moynihan and Justin Sydnor, an associate professor at the Wisconsin School of Business and the Behavioral Research Insights Through Experiments (BRITE) Lab at UW-Madison, launched the initiative in spring 2017. The Herb Kohl Research Competition and UW-Madison's Center for European Studies and Jean Monnet European Union Center of Excellence provide funding for the series. 


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Wednesday, April 25, 2018, 2 to 3 p.m.

The Effect of DNA Databases and Ban-the-Box Policies on Recidivism
Jennifer Doleac, University of Virginia Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy

Madison Public Library, 3rd floor
201 W. Mifflin Street

Jennifer Doleac, a national leader in research on criminal justice issues, will present evidence that adding felony convicts and arrestees to DNA databases dramatically reduces recidivism, leading to cost-effective reductions in crime. She also will discuss the implications for using technology to fight crime more effectively.

Countries around the world maintain databases of criminal offenders’ DNA profiles. The databases allow law enforcement personnel to quickly and accurately match crime-scene evidence with the people who committed the crimes.

By increasing the likelihood that people will be caught if they reoffend, this technology could deter future criminal behavior and take dangerous offenders off the street. But are the benefits worth the costs?

Doleac also present her research that ban-the-box policies, which are intended to make it easier for felons to reintegrate in the workplace, have negative unanticipated consequences.

Doleac personal website
Printable flyer
Event video

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Tuesday, April 3, 2018, 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. 

The Psychology of Performance Numbers in the Public Sector
Asmus Olsen, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Madison Public Library, 3rd floor
201 W. Mifflin Street

 Asmus Leth Olsen will present results from his research on how citizens interpret numerical performance data in the public sector. He will stress the importance of symbolic numbers, attention to negative results, the subtle effects of framing, and the importance of benchmarks and comparisons offered to citizens.

Olsen's research provides insights into how managers and policymakers can anticipate citizens' responses to various forms of performance metrics. It also provides managers and policymakers with some tools to reassess their response to performance metrics.

His findings give some cause for skepticism about the ability of numbers to shape citizens' perceptions of public service. However, Olsen also will show evidence from randomized controlled trials that clearly indicate that citizens can learn from government performance data. Data can find a way, if we rely on the psychology of numbers.

Olsen personal website
Printable flyer
Event video

Related article: Behavioral Public Administration: Combining Insights from Public Administration and Psychology, Public Administration Review, vol. 77, issue 1

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