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Interview with Elizabeth Linos

Behavioural Science is a rapidly expanding field and everyday new research is being developed in academia, tested and implemented by practitioners in financial organisations, development agencies, government ‘nudge’ units and more. This interview is part of a series interviewing prominent people in the field. And in today's interview the answers are provided by Elizabeth Linos.

Elizabeth is the Emma Bloomberg Associate Professor for Public Policy and Management, and Faculty Director of The People Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The majority of her research focuses on how to improve government by focusing on its people and the services they deliver. Specifically, she uses insights from behavioral science and evidence from public management to consider how to recruit, retain, and support the government workforce, how to reduce administrative burdens that low-income households face when they interact with their government, and how to better integrate evidence-based policymaking into government. As the former VP and Head of Research and Evaluation at the Behavioral Insights Team in North America, she worked with government agencies in the US and the UK to improve programs using behavioral science and to build capacity around rigorous evaluation. Prior to this role, Elizabeth worked directly in government as a policy advisor to the Greek Prime Minister, George Papandreou, focusing on social innovation and public sector reform.


Who or what got you into Behavioural Science?

I first learned about behavioral science from my mentor and professor, Richard Zeckhauser, who taught me about Tversky and Kahneman. I was already very bought into using randomized evaluations to measure impact and was coming out of working in government during a global financial crisis, so when I then heard that there was a team in the UK running rigorous evaluations in government, using low-cost interventions for meaningful impact, I was hooked. Joining BIT in the UK is was *really* got me into behavioural science.

What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural scientist?

Supporting Elspeth Kirkman in launching BIT North America. We were able to quickly and effectively support cities across the US to use the tools of behavioral science and rigorous evaluation to make a difference in residents’ lives.

If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?

Working in government.

How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?

I used it a lot with my kids when they were toddlers. Designing choice architecture correctly seems to be the most important part of feeding and clothing a young child.

With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?

I think this depends on what kind of behavioural scientist you want to be. There are people who are contributing to theory, others who are contributing to “what works,” and others still who are using behavioural insights in the public and private sectors. Each of these “types” require different underlying skills. But I would urge anyone who is interested in this space to make sure they understand basic econometrics and causal inference as much as research design. This will help them discern what is good behavioural science from things that sound nice.

How do you think behavioural economics will develop (in the next 10 years)?

I imagine we’ll learn about a lot more about what works for whom over the next 10 years. We’ll get a stronger sense of what is universal and what isn’t, and under what conditions we can expect different behavioral interventions to work. I also hope we’ll see more behavioural science tools used to change the behaviour of the most powerful in order to affect systems, rather than putting the onus of change on individuals alone.

What advice would you give to young behavioural scientists or those looking to progress into the field?

Don’t get too enamored with any individual tool – make sure you’re focused on the outcome that matters to you. You can be a great behavioural scientist and still understand that we won’t solve all of the world’s problems just by using one tool.

Which other behavioural scientists/economists would you love to read an interview by?

Katy Milkman, Elspeth Kirkman, Hengchen Dai, Dilip Soman, Stefano DellaVigna

What are the greatest challenges being faced by behavioural science, right now?

Replication crises and a superficial understanding of what behavioural science can offer.

What is your biggest frustration with the field as it stands?

The continual emphasis on surprising findings (as opposed to the pursuit of true findings), and the lack of integration of behavioural science with more nuanced thinking on systems, power, privilege, and inequality.


Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Elizabeth!

As I said before, this interview is part of a larger series which can also be found here on the blog. Make sure you don't miss any of those, nor any of the upcoming interviews!

Keep your eye on Money on the Mind!


Behavioural Science

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