PART 1 in a series of posts documenting Sanford’s first Behavioral Economics for Municipal Policy Course.

By Carol Jackson

The timing could not have been better. On September 15, 2015 President Obama issued an executive order: use behavioral science insights to better serve the American people. Two days later, 70 North Carolina mayors, city managers and other officials from 30 local governments gathered at a Sanford School workshop to learn about that very thing. What is behavioral science, and how can it be used to spur innovation at the local level?

The local officials learned from among the best in the field. Dan Ariely, professor in the Sanford School, and James B. Duke Professor of behavioral economics, has authored three best-selling books on the topic.

Peter Ubel, the Madge and Dennis T. McLawhorn University Professor of Business, Public Policy and Medicine at Duke, uses the tools of decision psychology and behavioral economics to explore health care topics like informed consent, shared decision making and health care cost containment.

Bryan Sivak also addressed the crowd. As chief innovation officer to Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, he led that state’s efforts to embed concepts of innovation into the DNA of state government. Later he was chief technology officer for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service where he ran “Idea Lab.”

The workshop kicked off a local government policy innovation initiative at Sanford. Fifty students from Sanford and the Pratt School of Engineering are enrolled in Ariely’s yearlong “Behavioral Economics for Municipal Policy” course. They will work in small teams with the local government leaders to design “behavioral interventions” to address specific problems.