Extended Field Course: US Behavioral Insights - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Extended Field Course: US Behavioral Insights

Course Number 6277

Professor Max H. Bazerman
Fall; Q1Q2; 3 credits (toward fall term requirements)
Eight sessions on Monday late afternoons in fall term from 4:15-7:00 pm: September 11, September 18, October 16, October 30, November 6, November 20, November 27, and December 4
Travel Dates: 2-4 days between January 8-19
Program Fee: None (See details on travel costs)

Enrollment: Limited to 30 MBA students, 20 HKS students, and a few HBS doctoral students

Relevant People

Instructor: Max Bazerman, Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration, Baker/Bloomberg 453, mbazerman@hbs.edu

Faculty Support Specialist: Elizabeth Sweeny, esweeny@hbs.edu

Program Assistant, Behavioral Insights Group: Shibeal O'Flaherty, Shibeal_OFlaherty@hks.harvard.edu

Overview of Time Commitments

Eight on-campus sessions: Classes run from 4:15-7:00 PM (4:15-6:15 for the first two classes) on the HBS Campus

Travel dates: 2-4 days between, January 8-19

Credits: 3.0

Career Focus

This EC Field Course will create an action-oriented experiential learning experience, and 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 projects in Boston, Washington, Rhode Island, Vermont or New York.

The EC Field Course Model

Unlike most EC Field Courses this course will unfold over the fall semester with students potentially traveling to Washington DC or New York City in January for 2-4 days. In contrast to the Immersive Field Course- UK: Behavioral Insights, the expectation for this course is that more of the actual work will be done during the fall semester with very limited days spent in the field in January.

Educational Objective

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 to identify small changes that can have big effects.

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 concepts have generalized to city governments, the World Bank, and other national entities. This course will focus on projects based in three major U.S. cities.

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. The project will create the majority of the student experience.

Course Content and Organization

Overview and Introduction:The class will include class sessions, group meetings with Max, and substantial interaction with the client.

Project Assignment: All students will be working with a not-for-profit or government client. A list of 8-10 projects will be presented to students in September. Students will rank order their preferences for the projects, and we will attempt to maximize the cumulative happiness of the class with the projects they are assigned.

We have a history of working on a similar course with government agencies in the UK and the Netherlands. We will model the EFC after best practices from our prior experiences.

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.

Beyond reading and class time, students should expect to spend 30-50 hours on the project in the fall, 2-4 days on site in January, 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.

Presentation and Briefing to Your Client

Your assignment is to produce a presentation and briefing report to your client that provides useful insight 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. Test or make suggestions for the client on how they can test or implement your ideas.

Students should expect to work as a project team at their field site for 2-4 days In January, culminating is a presentation to their client. Boston/Cambridge projects will complete their field work and make their presentations between January 16-19. Washington projects will complete their field work and make their presentations on January 11. And, New York projects will complete their field work and make their presentations on January 12. Max plans to attend all final presentations. Presentations dates may change due to client constraints. But, students should not enroll in this class if they will unavailable between January 8-19.

The briefing report is due by 1/31/18. The briefing report should be sent to both the client and to Max. Answer to common question: If the client only requests a presentation and no written report, is the written report still required. Answer: yes.

All students will also provide peer assessments via canvas soon after the briefing report is turned in.

Due to the nature of EC Field Courses students may be required to sign legal agreements or provide additional documentation based on the organization’s requirements.

Course Credit and Costs

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.

There is no course fee (in contrast to the Behavioral Insights Immersive Field Course), therefore making the financial costs to students substantially lower. GEO will provide reimbursement for one roundtrip economy travel trip to your client location in Washington or New York in January. Students, however, will be responsible for some out-of-pocket costs such as accommodations, meals, local travel in NY and DC. If working on a project in New York or Washington, you will be expected to arrange and pay for your own accommodations, meals, etc. These costs are not Financial Aid eligible.


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 at least the first four chapters of:

Other useful readings that will be a part of the course include:

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 Nudge.

Course Policies

Laptop Policy: Before each class session begins, please shut down your computer. There should be no computer use during class time unless otherwise specified.

Academic integrity and professionalism: I expect full academic integrity from students in this course. All work handed in must be your own. Substantial paraphrasing or borrowing of ideas without appropriate citation can be construed as plagiarism, so be sure that you understand what constitutes a breach of academic integrity. For more on HKS academic integrity visit: http://www.hks.harvard.edu/degrees/registrar/procedures/integrity

Attendance and participation: Class attendance is essential for understanding this material. Late arrivals to class, or talking while other students are speaking, are disrespectful to other class members. Please be punctual and do not talk in class while others are speaking.

Cell phones and other devices: Before each class session begins, please turn off ALL cell phones. Use of cell phone (including checking email) during class will reduce class grade by one full level for each offense.

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 (Luca's tax letter). We will learn about the participants in the course. And, 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.

Class 2 (9/18: 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 (10/16: 4:45-7:30 - delay due to Max's other commitments): The psychology behind the behavioral insights movement. Lecture/discussion by Max.

Class 4 (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.

Max will be available from 8:30-10:30 AM on 11/6-8 to meet with project teams.

Class 5 (11/6: 4:15-7:00): Methods and statistics that are needed in the field.- Part 1.

Read in advance:

Class 6 (11/20: 4:15-7:00): Guest speakers - tbd.

Max will be available from 8:30-10:30 AM on 11/6, 11/7, and 11/8 to meet with project teams.

Class 7 (11/27: 4:15-7:00): Methods and statistics that are needed in the field - Part 2

Class 8 (12/4: 4:15-7:00): Trip planning, final presentation decision, and project work. We will briefly discuss trip logistics. We will discuss the structure of the field visits and the concluding presentation. You will session working on your project with your group.

Biography: Max Bazerman

Max H. Bazerman is the Co-Director of the Center for Public Leadership (with David Gergen), the Co-Chair of the Behavioral Insights Group (with Iris Bohnet), and the Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. Max’s research focuses on decision making, negotiation, and ethics. He is the author, co-author, or co-editor of twenty books (including The Power of Noticing, forthcoming, Simon and Schuster, 2014, the eighth edition of Judgment in Managerial Decision Making [with Don A. Moore], Wiley, 2013 and Blind Spots [with Ann Tenbrunsel], Princeton University Press, 2011) and over 200 research articles and chapters. Locally, Max won the HBS Wyss Award for doctoral student mentoring, the HBS Williams Award for teaching excellence, and the HKS Adviser of the Year award. His former doctoral students have accepted positions at leading business schools throughout the United States, including the Kellogg School at Northwestern, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the Fuqua School at Duke, the Johnson School at Cornell, Carnegie-Mellon University, Stanford University, the University of Chicago, Notre Dame, Columbia, the Harvard Business School, and the Harvard Kennedy School. His awards include an honorary doctorate from the University of London (London Business School), an Aspen Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Distinguished Educator and the Distinguished Scholar Awards from the Academy of Management. In addition he has been named as Ethisphere’s 100 Most Influential in Business Ethics and a Daily Kos Hero from the Bush Era for going public about how the Bush Administration corrupted the RICO Tobacco trial. Max’s consulting, teaching, and lecturing includes work in 30 countries.