Behavioral and Experimental Public Administration Lab
Behavioral and Experimental Public Administration Lab (BEPAL) is a virtual lab, led by Professor WSB Asmus Leth Olsen, spanning research projects within the field of public administration that draw on psychological theories and use experimental designs.
BEPAL aims to bridge the gap between research in (political) psychology and public administration in order improve public services and the public sector's responsiveness to citizens' aspirations. Behavioral insights and evidence in the service of citizens and democracy.
BEPAL links basic research to practice and welcomes suggestions and ideas for collaboration with external partners in both the public, private, and non-profit sector.
Professor WSB Asmus Leth Olsen
Phone: +45 35 33 34 01
Research assistant Anders Woller Nielsen
Student assistant Cecilie Weischer Frandsen
Student assistant Mikkel Meinert Pedersen
Student assistant Felicia Holm Michelsen
Student assistant Marcus Hornum Bing
Department of Political Science
University of Copenhagen
Centre for Health and Society
Øster Farimagsgade 5
DK-1353 Copenhagen K
Covid19-survey - What do the Danes think, know and mean about the Corona Epidemic?
Professor MSO Asmus Leth Olsen and Assistant Professor Frederik Hjorth have received immediate funding from The University of Copenhagen to carry out a survey concerning the public opinion on the coronavirus epidemic:
"SAMF straksmidler uddelt: 4 projekter skal undersøge de samfundsmæssige aspekter af Covid-19"
The epidemic has meant, that the Danish government has had to take very extensive measures to control the outbreak. For these measures to work it is important, that the Danish citizens' understand them, find them legitimate, and have faith, that the government and authorities have the situation under control. Asmus L. Olsen and Frederik Hjorth have explored Danish citizens' threat assessment, their prioritization between economy and human life and their willingness to distance. Data have already been collected in 2020, and the data collection will continue in the following days and weeks. That means that the results already gathered can change during the course of the epidemic.
The following results are based on a random sample of 1600 Danish citizens collected via the Danish panel at Epinion between March 20 and March 26:
ICBPA 2019 – International Conference in China
Asmus Leth Olsen recently participated in the first International Conference on Behavioral Public Administration at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China on October 12-13, 2019. Read about the conference.
Asmus Leth Olsen regularly writes articles for Berlingske based on his research. Read the newest articles here:
"Forskere: Alle siger, at verden aldrig bliver den samme - men måske er det netop det, den gør?" Berlingske, April 6, 2020
"Corona-epidemien er de unge mod de gamle" Berlingske, March 29, 2020
"Politik er ikke en hobbysport" Berlingske, March 11, 2020
"Coronavirus viser, at autokratier som Kina mangler røgalarmer" Berlingske, February 6, 2020
“Hvis en politiker mangler lige præcist 977 sygeplejersker, skal du tænde for dit alarmberedskab” Berlingske, October 5, 2019.
“Fremfor at tvangsflytte folk eller sprænge højhuse i luften, skulle vi måske prøve med en smule rådgivning” Berlingske, September 8, 2019.
”USAs unikke samfundsproblem: Hvorfor dræber amerikanerne hinanden?” Berlingske, August 11, 2019.
”Danskerne er tillidsfulde og ærlige” Berlingske, July 13, 2019.
”Forhandlinger om regeringsdannelse skræmmer partierne” Berlingske, June 7, 2019.
News about Corruption, Selection and Dishonesty-projects
Article from Information, January 2019: “Nyt studie: Ærlige studerende drømmer om den offentlige sektor – uærlige drømmer om finanssektoren”
Article from Djøfbladet, February 2019: ”Økonomer snyder mest”
”Behavioral Insights for Government – The Psychology of Performance Numbers in the Public Sector”
Watch Asmus Leth Olsen’s presentation at University of Wisconsin-Madison from April, 2018.
Here is an overview of all the projects under BEPAL. Read more about the ongoing projects in the sections below.
1. The Behavioral Citizen as a Layman Public Administration Scientist: Inferences about Public Services
These projects aim to understand how citizens make inferences about the public sector, e.g. hospitals and public schools, and who they hold accountable, when things do not work.
2. Correcting misperceptions about Societal Problems
This project explores the knowledge level of Danish citizens regarding 12 societal issues, which TrygFonden is working to improve. The aim is to discover how this knowledge can be heightened through campaigns designed to draw attention to and possibly help solve the problems in the future.
3. Corruption, Selection and Dishonesty
The dice game paradigm, as a measure of dishonesty, is used to compare high- and low-corruption countries and self selection into public administration.
4. Raising Awareness Without Raising Fears
Zeroing in on campaigns against burglaries, our project tries to understand whether raising awareness about how one can avoid being burglarized can have unintended consequences, and if so, how we can mitigate such consequences, so that we can raise awareness without raising fears.
The Psychology of the Public Sector
Project period: July 1, 2014 to December 31, 2017
In psychology, counterfactual thinking is defined as mental representations of alternatives to past outcomes. A series of experiments show how counterfactual thinking affects perceptions of performance in various settings. Read about central concepts from the psychology of the public sector on Asmus Leth Olsen's own website here.
Project responsible: Asmus Leth Olsen
Project period: 2019 to 2022
Funded by The Sapere Aude-programme of the Independent Research Fund Denmark.
On a daily basis, Danish citizens have countless experiences with the welfare state. Some are personal, like dropping off their children at school; some are vicarious, like watching a story about the rising number of maltreatment cases in hospitals on the evening news; some are more subtle, like walking past a rundown public school on the way to work. All of these experiences help citizens form a mental picture about how the largest public sector in the world works. We therefore ask: How do citizens make inferences about the quality of public services and about who is responsible for this quality, and how can these inferential processes be changed by simple information interventions? The questions warrants a deeper understanding of the psychology of how citizens make inferences about public services. We do this by employing the full forces of Danish register data, survey panels, and field experiments.
We embark on three related subprojects, which are divided over the course of the four years the project runs in order to allow for learning and synergies between them.
- Subproject I: How Citizens Draw Inferences about The Quality of Public Services.
- Subproject II: Citizens’ Inferences about Responsibility for Public Services.
- Subproject III: Improving Citizens’ Inferences about Public Services.
Follow the link to access the book Behavioral Public Performance: How People Make Sense of Government Metrics
Project responsible: Asmus Leth Olsen
Project period: January 2020 to December 2020
Funded by TrygFonden.
TrygFonden is working to improve conditions regarding 12 important societal issues. The research project "Raising Awareness without Raising Fears" showed that Danish citizens have limited knowledge about the prevalence of burglaries in Denmark, one of the 12 issues, even though there has been a dramatic decrease during the last six years. The project also showed how a simple flyer-intervention with factual statistical information could improve the knowledge level of citizens.
That raises a bigger question about what the Danish citizens really know about the development in Trygfondens' 12 societal issues and how this knowledge can be heightened through campaigns designed to draw attention to and possibly help solve the problems in the future. The Danish citizens' level of knowledge regarding the issues can be crucial to solving them in the long run. Knowledge can affect the behavior of the citizen, their relation to other citizens and maybe most importantly their ability to hold politicians and decisions-makers accountable for solving the problems.
The aim of the project is to provide answers to fundamental questions, that will enable Trygfonden to navigate in the public debate concerning the 12 societal issues. At the same time the project connects to a broader scientific agenda, which places Trygfondens' understanding of the Danish citizens' knowledge of the 12 societal issues in line with research of great interest at the moment concerning trust, polarization, and correction of misperceptions and misinformation in the public sphere.
Project responsible: Asmus Leth Olsen, Frederik Hjorth, Nikolaj Harmon, and Sebastian Barfort
Project period: June 1, 2014 to December 31, 2017
Explaining variation in corruption across political systems is an important task. Recent research among developing countries finds that public employees are more willing to engage in corruption than private sector counterparts. The project investigates the link between corruption behavior and public employment in a Danish setting. Denmark is an interesting case as it enjoys some of the lowest levels of corruption globally. This is done via a number of innovative experimental studies which can measure indirect corruption behavior. We expect public-private differences in corruption behavior to be very different in Denmark than found elsewhere.
Read the article "Sustaining Honesty In Public Service: The Role of Selection" here.
Abstract: We study the role of self-selection into public service in sustaining honesty in the public sector. Focusing on the world’s least corrupt country, Denmark, we use a survey experiment to document strong self-selection of more honest individuals into public service. This result differs sharply from existing findings from more corrupt settings. Differences in pro-social versus pecuniary motivation appear central to the observed selection pattern. Dishonest individuals are more pecuniarily motivated and self-select out of public service into higher-paying private sector jobs. Accordingly, we find that increasing public sector wages would attract more dishonest candidates to public service in Denmark.
Read the article "Behavioral Dishonesty in the Public Sector" here.
Abstract: We investigate the usefulness of the dice game paradigm to public administration as a standardized way of measuring (dis)honesty among individuals, groups, and societies. Measures of dishonesty are key for the field’s progress in understanding individual, organizational, and societal differences in unethical behavior and corruption. We first describe the dice game paradigm and its advantages and then discuss a range of considerations for how to implement it. Next, we highlight the potential of the dice game paradigm across two diverse studies: prospective public employees in Denmark (n = 441) and prospective public employees in 10 different countries with very different levels of corruption (n = 1,091). In the first study, we show how individual-level behavioral dishonesty is very strongly negatively correlated with public service motivation. In the second study, we find that widely used country-level indicators of corruption are strongly correlated with the average behavioral dishonesty among prospective public employees.The results illustrate the importance of the validated dice game paradigm to shed light on core questions that link micro- and macro-level dynamics of dishonesty and corruption in the public sector.
Project responsible: Asmus Leth Olsen and Martin Vinæs Larsen
Project period: September 1, 2017 to October 31, 2019
Funded by Trygfonden
Zeroing in on campaigns against burglaries, our project tries to understand whether raising awareness about how one can avoid being burglarized can have unintended consequences, and if so, how we can mitigate such consequences, so that we can raise awareness without raising fears. In doing so, we hope to further our understanding of how public information and the public psyche interacts, and develop some general lessons for practitioners, who want to design awareness campaigns without imposing negative unintended consequences. We focus on burglaries, because it is one of the types of crime which Danes are the most concerned about, and a type of crime for which there has been many information campaigns in recent years. The goal of this project is both to solve a concrete problem, specifically how we can improve information campaigns, but it also tries to advance our understanding of how the public information environment might affect the public psyche in hitherto unexplored ways. In particular, we will be able to make inferences about how whetherdiscussing and informing people about risky outcomes changes their view about the likelihood of these outcomes occurring, and in turn, their general sense of safety and trust.
As presented in “Reducing Bias in Citizens’ Perception of Crime Rates”, published in Journal of Politics in 2019: Citizens are, on average, too pessimistic when assessing the trajectory of current crime trends. In this study, we examine whether we can correct this perceptual bias with respect to burglaries. Using a field experiment coupled with a large panel survey (n=4,895), we explore whether a public information campaign can reduce misperceptions about the prevalence of burglaries. Embedding the correct information about burglary rates in a direct mail campaign, we find that it is possible to substantially reduce citizens’ misperceptions. Importantly, the effects are not short lived: they are detectable several weeks after the mailer was sent, but they are temporary and eventually the perceptual bias re-emerges. Our results sug- gest that if citizens were continually supplied with correct information about crime rates they would be less pessimistic. Reducing bias in citizens’ perception of crime rates might therefore be a matter of adjusting the supply of (dis)information about crime.
Figure A shows the amount of correct responses across time from the full sample (n=4,895) when asked whether the amount of burglaries has increased or decreased in the last five years.
”The Behavioral Citizen”-projects from 2019 to 2022 are funded by the Sapere Aude-programme of the Independent Research Fund Denmark.
"Correcting Misperceptions about Societal Problems"-project from January to December 2020 is funded by Trygfonden.