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.

Career Focus

This course will appeal to students who are interested in obtaining a basic understanding on 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 humans 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; muster 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: There will be six class sessions over the course of the Fall semester. We plan on a very busy course. 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.

We plan six on-campus sessions in the fall (as well as two optional lectures in the fall), ten days of work in London, an oral report in country from each group, and a written product from each group.

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 here.



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 required participation in all on-campus sessions during the Fall and Spring terms) will earn 3.0 course credits

HBS will provide logistical support for this course (including hotel accommodations, select meals, and local on-site travel arrangements). Students will be charged a course fee of $2,500 towards defraying a portion of these costs. Students who have an existing financial aid application on file may apply for additional financial support to participate in this course. Please see the 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.


Throughout the course, we will provide recommended readings to help participants familiarize themselves with experimental methods, behavioral decision research and behavioral economics.

Participants should also read at least the first four chapters of Judgment in Managerial Decision Making, as well as the Vanity Fair article How Two Trailblazing Psychologists Turned the World of Decision Science Upside Down (or the more complete Lewis work available here) by the start of the second class.

Students are also strongly encouraged to read the following in advance of the start of the course:

Project teams are responsible for collectively knowledge of the content of these two books.