Not available in 2021/22
SP336      Half Unit
Behavioural Public Policy

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Adam Oliver Old 2.33

Adam Oliver is responsible for SP434, but a GTA will teach the undergraduate seminar. GTAs will also be responsible for marking the assessments for this course. 


This course is available on the BSc in International Social and Public Policy, BSc in International Social and Public Policy and Economics, BSc in International Social and Public Policy with Politics, BSc in Social Policy, BSc in Social Policy and Economics, BSc in Social Policy and Sociology and BSc in Social Policy with Government. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit. This course is available with permission to General Course students.

This course is only available to third year undergraduate students


Course content

The application of behavioural economics and behavioural science to public policy issues has been, and continues to be, a major theme in the policy discourse internationally. This course offers students a thorough grounding in the theory and findings that define behavioural economics, from the major violations of standard economic theory to prospect theory and the theories of human motivation. The course goes on to consider the conceptual policy frameworks that have been informed by behavioural economics, with examples – so called nudge, shove and budge policies – illustrated so as to highlight how these frameworks are applied in practice. Students will also be exposed to the different behavioural-informed schools of thought that have prescribed divergent paths for public sector governance.

The course should interest anyone who is concerned with issues pertaining to social and public policy across any sector in any country. The literature consulted in this area is necessarily multidisciplinary, principally encompassing economics, psychology, political science, policy and ethics. 



10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the LT.

Lectures will cover numerous topics in behavioural public policy. Seminars will then include a range of activities on each topics, including short answer quizzes, the students' own ideas on how to develop behavioural public policies, discussion on close reading of some key texts, and small group discussions of key questions on each topic.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 piece of coursework in the LT.

A one page plan of the summative essay, due just before reading week in the Lent Term. 

Indicative reading

The course text is: Oliver, A. 2017. The Origins of Behavioural Public Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

The above book consists of ten chapters. One chapter each week is essential reading. Additional readings will be given on the reading list, and via advice from the seminar leader. 


Essay (100%, 2500 words) in the ST Week 1.

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: Social Policy

Total students 2020/21: Unavailable

Average class size 2020/21: Unavailable

Capped 2020/21: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills