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The Australian National University

Insights for Indigenous policy from the applied behavioural sciences

Presented by


Haydon Allen G052 (Quadrangle, near ANU Union), Australian National University


25 September 2013
12.30 - 2.00pm

People are neither completely rational, nor completely random in their decisions. Rather, people exhibit predictable biases that not only make it less likely that they will achieve their own stated desires, but also complicate the design and efficiency of public policy. These are some of the insights of the emerging applied behavioural sciences that combine theories and techniques from disciplines like economics, sociology, psychology and, to a lesser extent than might ideally be the case, anthropology. Another insight from recent research is that people living in situations of low income or other poverty are no more or less rational than others in more advantaged positions. Rather, there is less slack in their lives, meaning that the outcomes of observed biases in behaviour can be more problematic. With some notable exceptions, these insights from the applied behavioural sciences have not filtered through to policy formulation.

Policy related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) Australians is one example in Australia of an area where insights from the applied behavioural sciences have the potential to improve the quality of policy decisions. A relatively large amount of government funds is spent on Indigenous people reflecting a relatively high degree of health and socioeconomic disadvantage. There is therefore a greater need to underst