We are the Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government, or BETA.
Rather than expecting people to redesign their lives around government, our work encourages people-centred design, which means: simpler, clearer and faster public services.
We are the Australian Government's first central unit applying behavioural economics to improve public policy.
BETA started work in PM&C on 1 February 2016 as a joint initiative across the Australian Government. Working with a range of partner agencies, BETA will put real people at the centre of policy and programme design.
Headed up by Professor Michael Hiscox of Harvard University, the team will use behavioural economics, science and psychology to improve policy outcomes.
Why we need a Behavioural Economics team
Traditional policy makers assume people will always make the best decision possible, and have no shortage of willpower or brain power. However, research and evidence tells us this isn’t always the case.
There is often a gap between what people intend to do and what they actually end up doing. For example, we know when people are in ‘auto-pilot’ they will often use shortcuts and prefer to rely on stereotypes. In other cases people won’t act on their best intentions because they feel overloaded with choices.
That’s why it’s important to put real human behaviour at the centre of policy and programme design. Designing policy should be based on a sound understanding human behaviour. This goes hand-in-hand with BETA’s commitment to test those designs, building our understanding of what works and when we need to adapt our approach.
We are making sure our government policies, programmes and services reflect real decision-making and achieve the best possible outcomes for Australians.
Experience has shown that inexpensive improvements based on a better understanding of human behaviour can increase efficiency within the public service and help people put their good intentions into action. Initiatives like plain packaging of cigarettes, mysuper and pre-filled tax forms were designed with real human behaviour in mind.
In NSW, behavioural economics helped to get injured workers back to health and work more quickly by simplifying processes, using positive messaging and personal commitment techniques.
In the UK, behavioural economics helped people realise their intention to register as an organ donor.
BETA’s mission is to build behavioural economics capability across the public service and drive its use in policy design by testing what works, where and in what context.
To do this, we work with our partner agencies to:
- build the APS capability needed to support greater use of behavioural economics in policy-making
- provide behavioural economics expertise on a number of projects that apply and test policy, programme and administrative designs
- establish links between the APS and the behavioural economics research and practitioner community, here and overseas.
Who we work with
- Attorney-General's Department
- Department of Agriculture and Water Resources
- Department of Communications and the Arts
- Department of Education and Training
- Department of Employment
- Department of the Environment and Energy
- Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
- Department of Health
- Department of Human Services
- Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development
- Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
- Department of Social Services
- Australian Public Service Commission
- Australian Taxation Office
- The Treasury
- National Disability Insurance Agency
- Department of Industry, Innovation and Science
- Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman
- Department of Veterans' Affairs
BETA registered trials
BETA is committed to being open and forthcoming about the work that we do. We aim to disclose the purpose and methods of our trials ahead of time, and publish our findings once projects are completed.
This practice will ensure greater accountability and transparency. It will facilitate the sharing of knowledge with our fellow researchers and other interested parties and build the evidence base on what works.
Find out more about our current and recently completed trials.