Getting Citizens to Make Better Decisions
What kind of behavior should a government encourage in its citizens? Saving
money for retirement? Recycling? Using less energy? Eating healthfully? No
matter what the behavioral goal may be, the same research that marketers can use
to influence consumer behavior provides powerful tools to help government
influence citizen behavior.
Rebecca Ratner, associate professor of marketing, is helping policy makers
develop more effective ways to get people to do what they should. Ratner
recently led a three-day discussion with business executives and government
officials at the Aspen Institute, an international organization that fosters
values-based leadership. It encourages individuals to reflect on the ideals and
ideas that define a good society, and provides a venue for discussing and acting
on critical issues such as climate change.
Interested in learning more about the mysterious factors that affect
decision-making? Ratner suggests reading Paradox of Choice, by Barry
Schwartz; Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely; and Nudge: Improving
Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass
Sunstein, which was recently on the reading list for the Obama administration.
Ratner helped her group learn more about key findings in decision making
research that can help policy-makers influence public behavior. For example,
research has shown that the defaults you present people with have a huge
influence on their choices, because few people switch away from a default.
Marketers might use this technique when presenting feature options or service
plans on a new appliance.
Knowing this, some countries have set a default for organ donation: everyone
is an organ donor unless they specifically opt out of the organ donation
program. In this case, the default can save lives and may be better for society,
according to Ratner, whose research has largely focused on the factors that
underlie human decision-making. But it brings up some sticky issues. Chief among
them: should the government be in the business of influencing people’s choices?
Doing so implies a value judgment—that one choice (organ donation) is better
than another choice (not donating organs). Who makes those value judgments? What
issues should government bring influence to bear on choices?
Good questions, admits Ratner, and ones that policy makers ponder as well.
Directors’ Institute Offers Advice and Education for Directors and
Directors’ Institute at the Smith School of Business is an
intensive, innovative two-day program to address the critical issues
facing boards today. This program, designed for board chairs, corporate
directors, and senior executive officers of publicly traded companies,
offers participants a framework for making informed board decisions and
exercising sound business judgment. Learn about issues such as
succession planning, strategy, compensation, institutional investor
activism, financial accounting and reporting, audit committee practices,
ethics, litigation, D&O insurance, and crisis management, with insight
from leading executives, corporate directors, policy-makers, legal and
financial services experts, as well as academic authorities from the
University of Maryland, the Directors’ Institute (ISS/RiskMetrics-accredited,
and CLE-approval forthcoming).
Location: Washington, D.C., at the Ronald Reagan Building &
International Trade Center. Program fee is $3,950 until February 28,
2010; $4,450 after March 1, 2010. Learn more at