DP13289 Biased Policy Professionals

Author(s): Sheheryar Banuri, Stefan Dercon, Varun Gauri
Publication Date: October 2018
Keyword(s): behavioural economics, bureaucracy, evidence-based policy making
JEL(s):
Programme Areas: Development Economics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=13289

Although the decisions of policy professionals are often more consequential than those of individuals in their private capacity, there is a dearth of studies on the biases of policy professionals: those who prepare and implement policy on behalf of elected politicians. Experiments conducted on a novel subject pool of development policy professionals (public servants of the World Bank and the Department for International Development in the UK) show that policy professionals are indeed subject to decision making traps, including the effects of framing outcomes as losses or gains, and most strikingly, confirmation bias driven by ideological predisposition, despite having an explicit mission to promote evidence-informed and impartial decision making. These findings should worry policy professionals and their principals in governments and large organizations, as well as citizens themselves. A further experiment, in which policy professionals engage in discussion, shows that deliberation may be able to mitigate the effects of some of these biases.