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. 

Asmus profile picture cropped

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


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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

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

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