This article theorises how behavioural public administration can help improve our understanding of frontline policy implementation. The human factors that characterise policy implementation remain undertheorised: individual variation in policy implementation is dismissed as mere “noise” that hinders predictability in policy implementation. This article aims to fill this gap. We provide a model for street level decision-making which outlines the role of heuristics and biases in frontline workers’ allocation of resources and sanctions. Based on an analysis of the behavioural and street-level bureaucracy literature, we present 11 testable propositions that point to predictable patterns in the ways that bounded rationality influences policy implementation and outcomes. Heuristics can help hard-pressed frontline public service workers to make decisions but may also produce social inequity or inefficient or ineffective service. Therefore, we need to improve understanding of biases that are common among frontline workers in order to inform the development of appropriate mitigation strategies, such as de-biasing or even ‘re-biasing’ (nudging).
This Special Issue features theoretical, methodological, and empirical advancements of the state-of-the-art in behavioural public policy and administration. In this introduction, we develop a behaviourally-informed, integrated conceptual model of the policy process that embeds individual attitudes and behaviour into context at the meso and macro level. We argue that behavioural approaches can be situated within a broader tradition of methodological individualism. Despite focusing on the micro level of policy processes, the contributions in this issue demonstrate that the behavioural study of public policy and administration can go beyond the individual level and give important insights into policy and societal outcomes. Our model enables us to draw more substantial lessons from behavioural research by moving beyond the verification of individual behaviour change. If based on a broad conceptual design and methodological pluralism, behavioural policies bear the potential to better understand, investigate and shape social outcomes.