EC452      Half Unit
Applying Behavioural Economics for Social Impact: Design, Delivery, Evaluation and Policy

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Nava Ashraf


This course is compulsory on the MPA in Social Impact. This course is available on the MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Columbia), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Hertie), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and NUS), MPA Dual Degree (LSE and Sciences Po), MPA in European Policy-Making, MPA in International Development, MPA in Public Policy and Management, MPA in Public and Economic Policy, MPA in Public and Social Policy, MSc in Public Policy and Administration and Master of Public Administration. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

EC452 is compulsory on MPA Social Impact


Students need to have taken the first year MPA economics courses EC440 Micro and Macroeconomics (for Public Policy) and EC455 Quantitative Approaches and Policy Analysis or equivalent courses including basic econometrics. 

Course content

This course delivers insights from cutting edge research in psychology and economics, and  asks  students  to  use  these  insights  to  design  solutions to  significant  social  challenges.  Students learn how to diagnose, design, deliver, and rigorously test products and services using the principles of behavioural economics and the methods of field experimentation. 

The course begins by describing the principle of coproduction: outcomes in health, education and similar fields are not simply given to end-users, but are produced by end-users themselves, interacting with supply-side factors Drawing on the insights from behavioural economics and using qualitative methods, students learn how to diagnose end-user needs, preferences and behaviour. The course then explores how the psychological aspects of behaviour can be combined with the tools and structure of economics to induce behaviour change and improve outcomes, including the challenge of setting prices and designing incentives. Throughout the course there is emphasis upon the critical importance of effective measurement in the context of the social sector, where traditional market feedback mechanisms are typically absent and where mission-driven leaders’ evaluation of organisational impact can itself be subject to cognitive bias and distortion. Appropriate measurement in turn informs improvements in diagnosis and design. The course concludes by exploring policy impact and how research can be translated into policy action.  Real world case studies are used at every stage of the course.

This course is relevant to all those who wish to improve the effectiveness of social interventions and programmes across a range of diverse fields, whether such interventions are administered through the state or, increasingly, through private philanthropy and social entrepreneurship.  The course tutor will be Professor of Economics and Director of Research at the LSE Marshall Institute.


20 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the MT.

Formative coursework

Additional exercises which will include preparation of an essay of the discussion questions for HBS-style case discussion.

Indicative reading

There is no single textbook for the course.  For an introduction to the field of behavioural economics, students should consult  Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (2009, Penguin) and Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman (2012, Penguin). A full reading list with the readings for each topic will be made available at the beginning of the course, and a draft course syllabus is available.


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours, reading time: 10 minutes) in the main exam period.

Key facts

Department: Economics

Total students 2016/17: 40

Average class size 2016/17: 20

Controlled access 2016/17: Yes

Lecture capture used 2016/17: Yes (MT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Commercial awareness
  • Specialist skills