Dr David Halpern
The Behavioural Insights Team
David Halpern is the Chief Executive of the Behavioural Insights Team. He has led the team since its inception in 2010. Prior to that, David was the founding Director of the Institute for Government and between 2001 and 2007 was the Chief Analyst at the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit. David was also appointed as the What Works National Advisor in July 2013. He supports the What Works Network and leads efforts to improve the use of evidence across government. Before entering government, David held tenure at Cambridge and posts at Oxford and Harvard. He has written several books and papers on areas relating to behavioural insights and wellbeing, including Social Capital (2005), the Hidden Wealth of Nations (2010), Inside the Nudge Unit (2015) and co-author of the MINDSPACE report.
Applying Behavioural Insights to the fight against corruption
The evidence base of “What Works” in reducing corruption remains limited. Few interventions have used field experiments to establish impact. Fewer still have drawn on the growing body of knowledge from the behavioural sciences to attempt to shift the dial.
Popular and policy accounts of ‘corruption’ can often misread why people ‘cheat’, and what might reduce this cheating. When viewing corruption by others, we often assume that it is driven by self-interest and done by inherently bad people. It’s seen as a ‘wicked problem’, with interlocking causes that make it very hard to address. This leads to corrupt practices forming a stable equilibrium, such that any one intervention by a political leader, the judiciary, or an honest citizen will often fail.
However, the psychology of corruption tells a very different story. Corruption and honesty can be motivated by social pressure, by a desire to be self-consistent, and by mental ‘moral licencing’ (e.g. “my salary does not reflect the value of my work. I deserve more money) among others. Many times the protagonists of these behaviours gradually slide into habits, without thinking of them as wrongdoings. Policy prescriptions that misread psychological aspects can not only fail, but can actually make the problem worse.
Whilst not an easy challenge to solve, tackling corruption requires a better understanding of: human decision making and what influences it; the psychology of honesty; the role of technology as an enabler of new behaviours; and the prevalent social capital – the pattern of social networks, obligations and trust in a region, including aspects of social trust that have formed over decades and centuries.
As part of the summit deliverables, the Behavioural Insights Team will be partnering with the HM Government and overseas administrations to explore how insights from the behavioural sciences can be applied to a range of contexts, testing if it is possible to encourage honesty and impartiality, and catalysing the emergence of new, positive social norms.