PP452      Half Unit
Applying Behavioural Economics for Social Impact: Design, Delivery, Evaluation and Policy

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Nava Ashraf


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 Dual Degree (LSE and Tokyo) and Master of Public Administration. This course is not available as an outside option.

This course is only available to students in the second year of the MPA programme.    


A rigorous understanding of statistics, economics and econometrics is important for this course, in order to be able to absorb the economics journal articles and methods covered.  Students will be required to have achieved marks of 55 or higher in PP440 and PP455 to be eligible for the course.  Students with marks of 50-54 in PP440 and PP455 will be considered on a case by case basis. 

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.


This course is delivered through a combined lecture-seminar format totalling a minimum of 30 hours in Michaelmas Term.  There will also be a drop-in weekly technical support session.  This year teaching for this course will take place in-person where possible and where conditions allow.

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). We will also be reading several scientific articles from top-tier economics journals.  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.


Project (40%) in the MT.
Take-home assessment (60%) in the LT.

The project (worth 40%) will consist of a group exercise addressing a real world problem using tools from the course.

The other 60% will be a take-home timed assessment of two hours' duration in January.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: School of Public Policy

Total students 2020/21: 45

Average class size 2020/21: 45

Controlled access 2020/21: Yes

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