Behavioral Insights Group

Can the location of a healthy snack food influence whether you make a healthier choice? Would a default "opt-in" setting make saving for retirement easier?

Launched in 2013 by faculty co-directors Iris Bohnet and Max Bazerman, the Behavioral Insights Group (BIG) brings together Harvard’s outstanding group of decision research scholars, behavioral economists, and other behavioral scientists to focus their energies on improving how decisions are made, both by leaders, and by individuals. BIG is driven by the belief that improving the quality of our leaders’ decisions is a core lever we possess to improve the world. When leaders and individuals make better decisions, an amazing array of changes can happen, including:

  • Improving educational systems,
  • Improving health,
  • Reducing discrimination,
  • Protecting the environment,
  • Managing finances better (both personal and organizational).

Recent books such as Nudge, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, and Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, have revealed how behavioral economics and other behavioral sciences shed light on decision making processes. These insights can do much more than improve how individuals make important personal decisions. They can also help leaders make better decisions about major policies—and ensure those policies effectively improve society.

BIG is fortunate that many of the world’s best decision research scholars, behavioral economists, and other behavioral scientists are at Harvard, and are eager to apply their expertise to our most challenging problems. Through their collaborative efforts, BIG will:

  • Generate new ideas in behavioral economics and other behavioral sciences;
  • Test these ideas through rigorous field experiments with governments and other partners;
  • Collaborate with practitioners to design and improve products, organizational practices, and services;
  • Share its insights and multiply its influence by teaching students, training leaders, and creating online and other teaching materials.

As a research program hosted by the Center for Public Leadership and Harvard Kennedy School, BIG will integrate its research with the teaching and social change initiatives of the center and the school. A key outcome for BIG will be teaching Harvard Kennedy School students in degree programs, executive education, and other seminars and workshops how to use behavioral insights to become more effective change agents, and to improve the state of organizations, policy, and the world.