BASS Sociology and Criminology / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Using Nudge to Change Lives

Course unit fact file
Unit code POLI30331
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


The course unit aims to:

  • Provide a solid foundation on the theoretical foundations of behavioural science
  • Critically investigate how the theories are mobilised and applied in the public and private sector around the world
  • Develop applied understandings of the principles of good research design covering both quantitative and qualitative approaches.
  • Develop students’ capacities for collaborative work and group learning

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding: 

  • Explain and analyse the underpinning theories of behavioural science
  • Understand how theories have been translated into different empirical contexts
  • Assess the application of behavioural science in public policy in different places and contexts




Intellectual skills: 

  • Interrogate key theories
  • Collate, critique, and defend different forms of evidence
  • Understand and apply evaluative principles to empirical material


Practical and transferable skills: 

  • Policy-orientated research
  • Independent research to support essay writing
  • Collaborative work and group learning

Teaching and learning methods

This course will be taught in three-hour workshop blocks for 10 weeks. Students will be expected to complete key readings in advance of this weekly workshop in order to enable discussion. The course instructor will start with an introductory lecture each week which will be followed by both large and small-group discussion. This will allow students to build teamwork skills, develop arguments, and engage with the course convener on specific topics.


Indicative week-by-week guide

  1. Introduction to the module and to the topic of behavioural science: theoretical foundations of behavioural science.
  2. Applying the theory: we will discuss various frameworks that can help identify barriers and facilitators to behaviours e.g. COM-B (Michie, 2011) as well as ways to change those behaviours e.g. EAST (BIT, 2014)
  3. Applications in practice 1: behavioural science in the public sector – discussion of how it is used by governments across the world
  4. Applications in practice 2: Behavioural science in the private sector – how it is used to benefit and harm consumers
  5. Measuring impact 1 – introduction to qualitative evaluation. Introduce the foundations of how and why evaluation is so important. Discussion of what qualitative evaluation is and how to use it.
  6. Measuring impact 2 – introduction to quantitative evaluation, how can we know if the approach has worked?
  7. Reading week
  8. Ethics, limitations and criticisms e.g. WEIRD (Heinrich et al, 2010)
  9. Going beyond ‘nudge’ – Nudge Plus, discussion of how behavioural science interacts with data science, design thinking, co-production

    Assessment methods

    Method Weight
    Report 20%
    Project output (not diss/n) 80%

    Recommended reading

    Ball, S. (2021)’Translating behavioural public policy into practice: interpretations and traditions’, Critical Policy Studies:

    Banerjee, S., & John, P. (2021). ‘Nudge plus: Incorporating reflection into behavioral public polic’y. Behavioural Public Policy, 1-16. doi:10.1017/bpp.2021.6

    Dolan, P., Hallsworth, M., Halpern, D., King, D. and Vlaev, I. (2009) MINDSPACE: Influencing behaviour through public policy, London: Cabinet Office and Institute for Government

    Hallsworth and Kirkman (2020) Behavioural insights MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series

    Behavioural Insights Team (2014) EAST: Four Simple Ways to Apply Behavioural Insights

    Henrich et al (2010) The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences (2010) 33, 61–135 doi:10.1017/S0140525X0999152X

    House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee (2011) 2nd Report of Session 2010–12: Behaviour Change, London : The Stationery Office Limited

    John, P. (2013), ‘All tools are informational now: How information and persuasion define the tools of government’, Policy and Politics41 (4), 605–620.

    John, P. (2018) How far to nudge? Cheltenham: Edward Elgar

    John, P., Cotterill, S., Moseley, A., Richardson, L., Smith, G., Stoker, G. and Wales, C. (2019) Nudge, nudge, think, think: experimenting with ways

    Study hours

    Scheduled activity hours
    Practical classes & workshops 30

    Teaching staff

    Staff member Role
    Elizabeth Richardson Unit coordinator

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