LSE Behavioural Economics Seminar – Paul Dola. March 4, 2014

LSE Behavioural Economics Seminar – Paul Dola. March 4, 2014

There are three main themes to his work. The first focuses on developing measures of happiness and subjective well-being that can be used in policy. He was recently asked to write the questions that are now being used in large surveys in the UK to monitor national happiness. He is currently looking at the happiness hit of the 2012 Olympic Games by measuring happiness in London, Paris and Berlin across three years. Earlier in his career, he was responsible for the generation of the tariff of health state values that are used by UK health policy makers in the calculation of quality-adjusted life years. The current UK estimates of the economic and social costs of crime are based on his work. Amongst other professional activities, he is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences Panel on measuring wellbeing, a member of the National Wellbeing Advisory Forum for the Office for National Statistics in the UK, and is Chief Academic Advisor to the UK Government on economic appraisal. He has advised most government departments in the UK on how to value benefits that are hard to measure, like health.

The second theme to Paul’s work considers ways in which the lessons from the behavioural sciences can be used to understand and change individual behaviour, and to add to the evidence base in this regard. Informed by the latest evidence that most of our behaviour simply comes about rather than being thought about, he is focussing on how situations and contexts influence behaviour. He is currently looking at how people change their energy consumption in response to information about other people’s energy consumption (and it changes quite a bit), and also at whether people eat more when they are incentivised to exercise (and they do eat more, quite a lot more in fact). This work is summarised in the ‘Mindspace’ report for the Cabinet Office. At the request of the head of the UK civil service, he was seconded into the Behavioural Insights Team in 2010 to help embed the ‘mindspace way’ into policymaking. Amongst his current professional activities, he is a member of the Cognitive and Behavioural Sciences Panel of the World Economic Forum and an expert advisor to Ofgem. He has worked with many clients on behaviour changes, including Aviva, ABN-AMRO, and Shell.

The third theme to his work is to use lab and field experiments to address major challenges, such as the impact of interventions on people’s lives and on their behaviour. Lab experiments, where participants are subject to tightly controlled tests of choice and behaviour, are widely used in the social sciences to determine the underlying mechanisms of preferences. Natural field experiments, where people are randomised to different interventions in natural field settings, are fast becoming the gold standard way of establishing causality in the social sciences. Human beings are not especially good at predicting their behaviour, and not much better at recalling the reasons for it, and so, where possible, we must observe the human animal in its natural environment. We need to more like David Attenborough and a lot less like Michael Parkinson in our approach to gathering evidence. Amongst his current professional activities, he is co-director of the Centre for the Study of Incentives in Health. He has worked with many clients on experiments, including the Department for Education, Money Advice Service and Nestle.

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