Immersive Field Course: UK and the Netherlands; Behavioral Insights - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Immersive Field Course: UK; Behavioral Insights

Course Number 6022

Associate Professor Michael Luca
Six on-campus sessions on Monday late afternoons: September 11, September 25, October 30, November 6, December 4 and February 6, 2018
On-campus sessions run from 4:15-7:00 PM (4:15-6:15 for the first two classes)
There will be an additional optional on-campus lecture on November 20
Travel dates: Arrival, Saturday, January 6, departure on Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Program fee & travel costs: See details on Course Credit and Fees
Credits: 3.0
Enrollment: Limited to 30 MBA students, 20 students from HKS and a few doctoral students from HBS.

Course Team and Contact Information 

Instructor: Michael Luca, Lee Styslinger III Associate Professor of Business Administration, Baker/Bloomberg 457,

Faculty Support Specialist: Jon Trapp,
Manager, MBA Global Experience Office (GEO): Yu-Ting Huang, 617.495.4503,
Program Manager, Behavioral Insights Group: Shibeal O’Flaherty, 617.496.2422,
Teaching Assistant: Oliver Hauser,
Teaching Assistant: Hyunjin Kim,

Overview of time commitments

Six on-campus sessions: Classes run from 4:15-7:00 PM (4:15-6:15 for the first two classes) on the HBS Campus.
Location: Aldrich 112 (Joint sessions with Professor Max Bazerman’s EC: Behavioral Insights): 9/11, 10/30, 11/6; Aldrich 208: 9/25, 12/4, 2/6
One additional optional on-campus lecture in Aldrich 112 (4:15-7:00): 11/20
Travel dates: Saturday, January 6 - Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Credits: 3.0 HBS Credits (HKS Students will receive 2.0 HKS credits per semester or 4.0 total on completion of the course)

Career Focus

This EC Field Course will create an experiential learning experience, and will appeal to students who are interested in obtaining a basic understanding of behavioral decision research and behavioral economics, and mastering knowledge of decision architecture, or "nudging." All students will work on actual projects connected to the UK government.

Educational Objectives

Perhaps the most important practical development in the social sciences in the last fifty years has been the development of the idea of creating an architecture for changing the environment to lead people to better decisions through "nudges" (Thaler and Sunstein, 2008). The fields of behavioral economics and psychology have become integrated into governments through this work.

Established in 2010 and directed by David Halpern, the Behavioral Insights Team (BIT) was set up in the heart of the British Government to apply behavioral economics and psychology to policymaking. The team has scored numerous successes across the government policy spectrum, overcoming initial skepticism on the part of some government officials. More recently, the team has begun advising other countries, including Singapore and Australia, on the same issues. The concepts have also generalized to city governments, the World Bank, and other national entities, including the Netherlands and the U.S. BIT works with a variety of partners both in government and in industry to implement nudges. They have led interventions in a variety of domains, including tax collection, charitable giving, education, and employment.

The Behavioral Insights Group (BIG), co-directed by Max Bazerman and Iris Bohnet and housed at the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, brings together Harvard University's outstanding collection of decision research scholars and behavioral economists. BIG's members focus their energies on how to improve decision-making in order to advance the public interest and make the world a better place.
In this course, students will obtain a basic understanding on behavioral decision research and behavioral economics; master what we know about decision architecture - or "nudging"; and apply these ideas to a group project with their client from local or national government in the United Kingdom.

Course Content and Organization

Overview and Introduction: The course will involve on-campus class sessions, a trip to the UK, and a group project including extensive work with a client. While in the UK, the course will incorporate multiple visits with the nudge unit, with agencies that have implemented nudges, and other select meetings that will facilitate our work.
Projects: All students will be working with a client, in the UK, both in advance of the trip, and during our visit. The client will define a project challenging the project team to use behavioral insights to help the organization be more effective.  The project will include designing a more effective system, and designing a test to explore whether the proposed change is effective. The basic idea is that we are going to learn from the most visible successes in this realm, and apply our knowledge in new projects.
We look forward to adding cultural activities. But, the majority of the meetings will be focused on meeting with government entities and private partners with whom they are engaging.  
Beyond reading, class, and travel time, students should expect to spend 30-50 hours on the project in the fall, and then turn their project into a written report by the end of January.
Four excellent sample projects from past classes (London/Netherlands) are available at

Presentation and Briefing to Your Client

Your assignment is to produce a presentation and briefing report to your client that provides useful instructions on using behavioral insights to help your client achieve a more effective and measureable performance.

You will be graded on the usefulness of the report for your client.  Some of the things that a useful briefing report might do would include:

  1. Define the problem or challenge. 
  2. Analyze do not merely present the relevant evidence.  
  3. Use behavioral insights to generate alternative approaches to addressing the problem. 
  4. Develop a set of recommendations on how to test the best of your ideas.
  5. Make suggestions/run trial tests for the client so that they can learn how to best implement your proposed behavioral interventions.



The Immersive Field Course Model

Immersive Field Courses are designed to offer second-year students an off-campus, experiential learning opportunity during the January term. A cornerstone of these courses is the expertise of faculty, who develop course content focused on teaching objectives that are met primarily through student-centered active learning opportunities including project work, site visits and participating in discussions with key contacts. As such, these courses provide students with an opportunity to apply first-hand the knowledge and skills gained from their on-campus MBA coursework in an off-campus setting.

Due to the nature of Immersive Field Courses students may be required to sign legal agreements requested by project partner organizations. Additional requirements and documentation may also be requested of students by organizations.

Course Credit and Fees
Students who successfully complete this course (including participation in all on-campus sessions during the Fall and Spring terms) will earn 3.0 HBS course credits, or 4.0 HKS course credits (2.0 HKS credits per semester)
HBS will provide in-country logistics for this course (including accommodations, select meals, and local travel) but students will need to contribute a fee of $2,500 toward defraying a part of these costs. In addition, students are responsible for their round-trip air travel and any costs associated with required visa documentation and immunizations. HBS students who have applied for financial aid may apply for additional financial support to participate in this course. Please see the HBS Financial Aid website (login required) for more information on financial support for Immersive Field Courses.

For detailed information about what the course program fee includes and excludes, as well as information about student accommodations, please visit the GEO website or email


Throughout the course, we will provide recommended readings to help participants familiarize themselves with experimental methods, behavioral decision research and behavioral economics.
Participants should read the first four chapters of
Bazerman, M.H. & Moore, D.  Judgment in Managerial Decision Making, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2013 (8th Edition)
and (optionally students can read the more complete Lewis work:

by the start of the third class.

Students looking for additional background might also consider the following:
Nudging by Government: Progress, Impact and Lessons Learnt (BSPA report by Michael Sanders and David Halpern)

Behavioural Insights and Public Policy: Lessons from Around the World (OECD report)

Should Governments Invest More in Nudging? (Shlomo BenartziJohn BeshearsKatherine L. Milkman, Cass R. SunsteinRichard H. ThalerMaya ShankarWill Tucker-RayWilliam J. CongdonSteven Galing)
Guide to Developing Behavioural Interventions for Randomised Controlled Trials: Nine Guiding Questions (Phil Ames and Michael Hiscox) Note: Phil was a former student in this course.

Project teams are responsible for collective knowledge of the content of Nudge.

Class Descriptions

Class 1 (9/11: 4:15-6:15): The evolution of behavioral insights. After an introduction and course overview, we will explore applications of behavioral insights in organizations through a hands-on exercise. We will then discuss the history of the rise of behavioral research and explore why this research has proven to be so useful in organizations.  
We will then learn about the participants in the course.

Class 2 (9/25: 4:15-6:15): This session will be devoted to overviewing the projects for the course.  At the end of the session, students will be asked to rank-order their interest in the projects.

Class 3: (10/30: 4:15-7:00): Behavioral insights in the field. In this class, we will learn about organizations that have successfully leveraged behavioral insights and field experiments in two different domains. Part of the session will also be reserved for group work.

Class 4 (11/6: 4:15-7:00): Methods and statistics that are needed in the field. Part of the session will also be reserved for group work. Read in advance:

            Hauser & Luca: “How to Design (and Analyze) a Business Experiment”

BIT: Test, Learn, Adapt

BETA: Guide to developing behavioural interventions

Optional event (11/20: 4:15-7:00): Guest speaker Katherine L. Milkman (Associate Professor at the Wharton School of The University of Pennsylvania)

Class 5 (12/4: 4:15-7:00): Trip planning and project work. We will briefly discuss trip logistics. We will discuss the structure of the field visits and the concluding presentation.  Part of the session will also be reserved for group work.

Class 6 (2/6: 4:15-5:45): Class wrap and debrief.