Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2019-2020 (archived)

Module PSYC41915: Behavioural Insights for Public Policy

Department: Psychology

PSYC41915: Behavioural Insights for Public Policy

Type Tied Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Available in 2019/20 Module Cap None.
Tied to C8K409


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • Acquire an understanding of how to apply psychological and behavioural science principles to public policy challenges such as improving health, environmental, and personal finance outcomes


  • This module examines the application of techniques and principles to promote behaviour change, including the 'nudging'.
  • The module begins with an introduction to the psychology of behaviour change, before critically addressing key studies and exploring their application to a range of public sector problems including how to improve health, environmental and financial outcomes
  • Topics can vary from year to year but are likely to include applied studies on how to promote healthier food consumption, how to encourage people to engage in more environmentally-friendly behaviours and how to save more for retirement.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Detailed knowledge of a range of theories and methods applied to behaviour change.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Ability to review critically and consolidate understanding of a coherent body of theories and empirical studies to generate behavioural inisghts for public policy questions.
  • Ability to apply behavioural insights to a range of policy-relevant problems assessed summatively via a 2,000-word essay and a visual abstract.
  • Ability to summarise a single piece of empirical evidence using only visual aids and a maximum of 200 words
Key Skills:
  • Good written communication skills
  • Good IT skills in word processing, data manipulation and data presentation
  • Ability to work independently in scholarship and research within broad guidelines

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Students' acquisition of detailed knowledge will be facilitated by weekly seminars which will include work in small groups and student-led discussions
  • Audio-visual materials and detailed reading lists will serve as learning aids for the weekly seminars
  • These modes of teaching provide students with detailed knowledge of the key theories and the skills needed to evaluate different theoretical positions in light of current empirical evidence
  • The use of group discussions / small group work will ensure that students are exposed to a range of different theoretical positions, and encouraged to understand their inter-relations
  • Small group work during the seminars will also give students the opportunity to interpret and evaluate the significance of empirical work
  • Learning will be assessed via two summative assignments: a visual abstract and a 2,000 word essay
  • The visual abstract (maximum 200 words) will assess students’ ability to synthesise for a general audience a single piece of recent empirical evidence on the topic of behavioural insights used in public policy
  • Students will receive guidance on the preparation of visual abstracts during the weekly seminars, and will have the opportunity to practice preparing visual abstracts for the empirical work that they read for the weekly seminars
  • The ability to communicate effectively the main points of the empirical piece of work covered by the visual abstract will be the main criterion of assessment
  • The essay will assess students' acquired knowledge of theoretical principles and empirical studies and their ability to organise and synthesise them coherently and critically in written form in response to a set question
  • An assessment of the range, recency and appropriateness of sources will be included in the overall assessment of the essay
  • The essay will also assess students' written communication skills
  • Feedback on the visual abstract and the essay will be available within three teaching weeks allowing students plenty of time to benefit from feedback on this aspect of their work

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 11 1 per week 2 hours 22
Preparation and reading 128
Total 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 75%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Summative Essay 2000 words 100% YES
Component: Visual Abstract Component Weighting: 25%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Visual Abstract 200 words or less 100% YES

Formative Assessment:


Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University