Bio-social Methods Workshop Commentary and Presentations

IAS imageBio-Social Methods for a Vitalist Social Science

Institute of Advanced Studies Workshop, University of Birmingham

16th July 2013

workshop commentary written by Dr Bryony Enright is available here (PDF).

Some interesting quotes on the concept of the bio-social can be found here (Powerpoint).

Presentations and audio recordings of presentations will be added as available below:

Helen Cobain @flikrNudging Into Subjectification (Powerpoint)

Dr John Cromby, Loughborough University (AUDIO)



hinchliffe porosity vitality contagionPorosity, Virality and the Study of Contagion (Prezi Presentation)

Professor Steve Hinchliffe, University of Exeter (AUDIO)


callard and fitzgerald experimentalExperimental Entanglements in Cognitive Neuroscience (LINK)

Dr Felicity Callard, Durham University and Dr Des Fitzgerald, Aarhus University


Fishin widow @flikr Nanny, Nudger or Therapist? Therapeutic Approaches to Behaviour Change in an age of ‘Vulnerability’

Professor Kathryn Ecclestone, University of Sheffield (AUDIO)


Using Mindfulness Training in Pro-environmental Behaviour Change (Powerpoint)

Rachel Lilley, Aberystwyth University (AUDIO)


peter stevenson @fllikrWhat is Impact? Producing Modest and Vulnerable Knowledge

Dr Megan Clinch, The Open University



Hammersley_drugs_Waleed Alzuhair flikrNudge Meets RCT: Evidence-based Manipulation for the Public Good? (POWERPOINT)

Professor Martyn Hammersley, The Open University (AUDIO)


speech bubble

Closing Remarks

Dr Jessica Pykett, University of Birmingham (AUDIO)



Workshop: Bio-Social Methods for a Vitalist Social Science

A workshop to be held at the University of Birmingham, to consider the potential for integrating critical and applied approaches contemporary ‘bio-social’ challenges.  16th July 2013 [9.00am-4:30pm]

If you are interested in attending, please contact Sarah Myring [].


9.00am Tea/coffee and register                                                                       
9.30am Welcome and Introduction

Dr Jessica Pykett, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

9.45am Nudging Into Subjectification

Dr John Cromby, School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University

Psychological research methods are ubiquitous in relation to the behaviour change agenda, because large parts of the evidence that behaviour change strategies rely upon is generated using them. Such methods make various assumptions – for example about cognition, affect and meaning, the putative distinctions between them, their interlocking dynamics, and the ways in which they can therefore be made visible for research purposes. At the same time, some methods have considerable potential to act back upon those who encounter them: they can function as ‘technologies of the self’ capable of inculcating modes of subjectivity consonant with the neoliberal ideology that the behaviour change agenda reproduces. In this talk I will consider these issues with respect to the recently-publicised initiative to compel UK benefits claimants to undergo psychometric personality testing.

John Cromby is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Loughborough University,  whose research interests relate to the character of experience; in particular, the way that experience is jointly constituted at the intersection of social influence and the body.

10.30am Porosity, Virality and the Study of Contagion – some notes on biosocial sciences

Professor Steve Hinchliffe, Geography, University of Exeter

In recent years, a correspondence has emerged from two quite separate fields – neurology and, for wont of a better term, more than human social sciences.  The correspondence is along these lines – we are beginning to understand how little of our thinking, reasoning, emotions or even our cells are ‘ours’.   From micro biomes to somnambulant subjectivities, ‘we’ are, it seems, porous selves.

This paper uses recent and soon to start work on contagion as a means to open up conceptual and methodological debates on bio-social science.  It starts in a chicken shed and ends in social media, but the questions are the same.  How do things spread, or better, how can we access the bio-social atmospheres that are the very conditions for contagion?

Steve Hinchliffe is Professor of Human Geography at the University of Exeter. He works on the geographies of nature, non-humans and environments.  His current work focuses on the geographies of contagion and disease, investigating scientific, agricultural and institutional approaches to securing life in the face of emerging infections, neglected endemics and food borne disease. The work uses multi-species ethnographies and spatial theory to explore the insecurities generated by conventional approaches to biosecurity.

11.15am TEA/COFFEE
11.45am Experimental Entanglements in Cognitive Neuroscience

Dr Felicity Callard, Social Science for Medical Humanities, Durham University and Dr Des Fitzgerald, Interacting Minds Centre, Aarhus University


In this presentation, we briefly outline some of the methodological, conceptual and empirical research that we have been pursuing since 2011 under the rubric of “Experimental entanglements in cognitive neuroscience”. The phrase “experimental entanglements” signals our desire to move beyond dialogical or interactive models of engagement between neuroscientists, social scientists and humanities researchers. Entanglement points, instead, to a muddier process in which practices of experimentation attend to how shared concepts and questions from these different fields emerge from complex and overlapping disciplinary histories, perspectives and modes of practice.

In our current historical moment, it is increasingly hard to talk about social, cultural, and political ‘lives,’ in isolation from the biological and neurological possibilities that inflect and texture those lives. But if there is growing interest in apprehending these exchanges, still no new paradigm, including the bio-psycho-social, has successfully conjured the entangled relations that constitute them. Simultaneously, the most sophisticated conceptual engagements with them have failed to achieve purchase outside rarefied theoretical spaces. We wager that a more committedly experimental exploration of this interdisciplinary space might reinvigorate the methods and epistemologies of both the ‘social’ and the ‘biological’ sciences. The articulation of this interdisciplinary domain depends, we argue, not on more convincing theoretical accounts, but in a much deeper entanglement of those accounts with emerging spaces of biological experiment and demonstration. Drawing on empirical examples, our presentation unfolds the implications of such a claim.

Dr Felicity Callard is Senior Lecturer in Social Science for Medical Humanities at Durham University. She has broad research interests in the history and present of psychiatry, psychoanalysis and cognitive neuroscience. Dr Des Fitzgerald is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Interacting Minds Centre, at Aarhus University. His research interests are in sociologies of neuroscience and the autism spectrum, and in the emergence of ‘interdisciplinary’ knowledges.

12.30pm LUNCH
1.30pm Nanny, Nudger or Therapist?: Therapeutic Approaches to Behaviour Change in an age of ‘Vulnerability’

Professor Kathryn Ecclestone, School of Education, University of Sheffield

The much-touted phrase ‘from nanny to nudge’ implies new forms of governance and images of human subjects targeted for intervention across a growing range of social policy areas. Yet the sophisticated alliances between emotional psychology, neuroscience, behavioural and social psychology emerging from these developments suggest that the state as ‘nanny’ or ‘nudger’ is only part of the story.  An overlooked dimension is the powerful intertwining of therapeutic ideas, assumptions and practices reflected in a 15-year rise of therapeutically-informed interventions throughout mainstream education, and the permeation of ‘therapeutic culture’ in everyday life, politics and popular culture.

In Britain, America, Australia and Finland, an ad hoc, eclectic range of interventions that aim to develop mindsets, attitudes and behaviours associated with ‘emotional well-being’, and a huge expansion of state-sponsored lay experts competing to offer effective therapeutic approaches are predicated on a consensus about a crisis of psycho-emotional vulnerability and mental health.  The legitimization of the state as ‘therapist’ raises questions about whether new forms of subjectivity and agency refracted through images of vulnerability are educationally and politically progressive.

Kathryn is Professor of Education at Sheffield University. Her research explores the political and cultural rise of ‘therapeutic culture’ in growing numbers of countries, reflected in the therapisation of policy and practice around interventions for ‘emotional well-being’ and ‘resilience’ across social policy, including education and family interventions.

Using Mindfulness Training in Pro-environmental Behaviour Change

Rachel Lilley, Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University

Mindfulness practice is increasingly being used in mental health contexts, schools and as an alternative approach to ‘top down’ behaviour change theories.  This paper reports on primary action-based research on mindfulness training (based on a Buddhist Meditation Technique) in the sphere of pro-environmental behaviour, particularly relating to Climate Change.  The rationale for using mindfulness in public policy has been variously couched in terms of neuroscientific evidence, the science of positive psychology, cognitive developmental theories, behavioural trials and ancient wisdom relating to the mind. In this research, two research methods were combined to consider the outcomes of a long term and a short term practice of mindfulness and the views of long term mindfulness practitioners and activists working in climate change.  By becoming conscious of their mental patterning, both long and shorter term mindfulness practitioners are able to consider different ‘out of habit’ choices to support their wellbeing and their desire to live according to their deepest values which generally include pro-environmental values. One strong emergent theme from the research was the potential of mindfulness to cultivate the intrinsic value of compassion. This was seen to support the development of wellbeing, a feeling of a greater sense of connectedness to others and to the wider world, and a consequent desire to act more pro-socially/pro-environmentally.   The research outcomes are currently being used to develop training programmes in the application of behaviour change and mindfulness in leadership and social change. Clients include the New Economics Foundation, WWF and Powys based social enterprise Cwm Harry. She is based in Mid-Wales.

Rachel Lilley (BA Hons, PGCE, BWY dip, MPhil) initially trained as a journalist and has spent the last 20 years working with NGOs in social change. She is a consultant, lecturer, facilitator, coach and project manager and more recently, researcher with Aberystwyth University. She also has 15 years experience as a yoga and meditation teacher. She also currently works for Ymlaen Ceredigion applying behaviour change to their work in sustainability in the community.

2.45pm Tea/coffee
3.15pm What is Impact? Producing Modest and Vulnerable KnowledgeDr Megan Clinch, The Open UniversityIn recent years there has been an emergence of array public health interventions that aim to act on the multiple behavioural, organisational, biomedical and social determinates, that are now thought to constitute health and disease. One aspect of this trend is the integration social scientific approaches, in particular qualitative research methods, into the design and evaluation of interventions. However, in spite of such interdisciplinary research, the evidentiary standards through which such interventions are assessed remain wedded to the logic of the Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT). In particular, the principle of observing and measuring the effects of a discrete ‘active ingredient’ in order to make definitive and unyielding claims. As a consequence, such endeavours tend to produce limited accounts of the very phenomena they are trying to capture.  In the conclusion to the paper, the results of this form of interdisciplinary research will be reflected on in terms of the type of impact that social scientific research concerned with health, disease and illness, is increasingly expected to demonstrate. Subsequently, it will be suggested that social scientists engaged in such work need to develop an alternative approach to impact, and in particular, a set of evidentiary standards that can communicate the value of producing knowledge that is both modest and vulnerable.

Megan has a background in Social Anthropology and completed my PhD at the LSE in 2010. Since then, she has worked at the Institute of Public Health at the University of Cambridge and undertaken a Visiting Postdoctoral Fellowship at The Centre for Medical Science and Technology Studies at the University of Copenhagen. She is currently developing research which explores how the concept of liminality can enhance social scientific understandings of situations characterised by multiple forms of uncertainty and indeterminacy.

Nudge Meets RCT: Evidence-based Manipulation for the Public Good?

Professor Martyn Hammersley, Faculty of Education and Language Studies, The Open University

I will examine the document Test, Learn, Adapt, produced in 2012 by the Behavioural Insights Team in the UK Cabinet Office (often referred to as ‘The Nudge Unit’). This advocates the use of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) for the selection and development of government policies, with an emphasis on those designed to operate via the ‘nudge principle’. My focus, for the most part, will be on the excessive claims this document makes for the capacity of RCTs to assess the quality of policies. But I will go on to consider some of the assumptions about the relationship between policies and human behaviour that the document makes; and the way in which these operate as a subtext, positioning both policymakers and the people who are the targets of their policies.

Martyn is Professor of Educational and Social Research at the Open University. His early research was in the sociology of education. Later work has been concerned with the methodological issues surrounding social and educational enquiry. These include objectivity, partisanship and bias; and the role of research in relation to policymaking and practice. 

4.30pm Close

Changing Behaviours book published

We have just published a book on this research which charts the emergence of the behaviour change agenda in UK based public policy making since the late 1990s.

Changing Behaviours

Changing Behaviours

On the Rise of the Psychological State

Rhys Jones, Jessica Pykett and Mark Whitehead

(Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham)

Copies available here.

‘This groundbreaking book provides a meticulously-researched history of the rise of a new state that aims to govern people by changing their behaviour through influencing (or at least claiming to influence) their psyche. With examples from finance, transport, health and environment, it also illustrates the struggles of citizens who fight against this new agenda of government. The book shows how deeply the psyche has become a different site of power and hence a different object of knowledge over the last two or three decades.’
– Engin Isin, the Open University, UK

Contents: Preface 1. Changing Behaviours and ‘New Models of Man’ 2. The Rise of the Psychological State in the UK 3. In the Heat of the Moment: Gambling and Saving Behaviours 4. Replanning the Street: Changing Behaviours by Spatial Design 5. Governing the Body: Addressing the Temptations of Food and Alcohol 6. Greening the Brain: The Pro-Environmental Behaviour Change Agenda Conclusion: Nudge, Think, Steer, Punch! Searching for the Real Third Way References Index

Further information
By tracing the influence of the behavioural sciences on Whitehall policy makers, the authors explore a new psychological orthodoxy in the practices of governing. Drawing on original empirical material, chapters examine the impact of behaviour change policies in the fields of health, personal finance and the environment. This topical and insightful book analyses how the nature of the human subject itself is re-imagined through behaviour change, and develops an analytical framework for evaluating the ethics, efficacy and potential empowerment of behaviour change.

This unique book will be of interest to advanced undergraduates, postgraduates and academics in a range of different disciplines. In particular, its inter-disciplinary focus on key themes in the social sciences – the state, citizenship, the meaning and scope of government – will make it essential reading for students of political science, sociology, anthropology, geography, policy studies and public administration. In addition, the book’s focus on the practical use of psychological and behavioural insights by politicians and policy makers should lead to considerable interest in psychology and behavioural economics.

Changing Behaviours: On the Rise of the Psychological State will be published by Edward Elgar in 2013

Photo: Trodel, Creative Commons 2.0

A significant but, for many people, imperceptible force has been quietly reshaping the operational logics of many states since the turn of millennium. This largely intellectual force has centred on nothing less than the nature of the human subject, the relationship between our conscious and sub-conscious selves, and the complex interface between the rational and irrational. This political trend has manifested itself in the increased significance of Behaviour Change policies. 

Our forthcoming book, Changing Behaviours, charts the emergence of Behaviour Change policies in the UK under New Labour and the Coalition Government. By tracing the influence of the behavioural sciences on Whitehall policy makers, it explores a new psychological orthodoxy in the practices of governing. Chapters examine the impact of Behaviour Change policies in the fields of health, personal finance and the environment.  The book analyses how the nature of the human subject itself is re-imagined through Behaviour Change, and develops an analytical framework for evaluating the ethics, efficacy and potential empowerment of Behaviour Change.

Changing Behaviours is based on a three year research project funded by the Leverhulme Trust, which examined the social, political and ethical significance of Behaviour Change policies in a range of spheres, including gambling and saving behaviours, urban design, school food, alcohol policies and household energy consumption. Through these case studies, we provide original evidence of the potential impact of the behaviour change agenda on different social groups and on wider society, and we discuss in detail how Behaviour Change policies are understood and contested by different individuals and groups.

Our aim in the book is to raise broader questions about the impact of behaviour change on the democratic process, governance and state-citizen relations. By providing a critical analysis of the place of ‘nudge’ policies in a broader political landscape we seek to show how nudge policies re-conceptualize human action, and we trace the intellectual roots of nudge in terms of its links with emerging academic fields of behavioural economics, user-centred (and ‘persuasive’ technological) design principals and, increasingly, neuroscience. We consider questions about the way in which such policies imagine the rationality and political agency of the human subject.  As Human Geographers, we are particularly concerned with unpacking the place of the loose political philosophy of ‘libertarian paternalism’, through which Behaviour Change policies have found political purchase. We therefore situate the Behaviour Change agenda within the history and geography of ‘neoliberalism’. Through its engagement with contemporary social policies and practice, the book also builds on understandings of the politics of ‘neuroliberalism’ – based on governing neurological or psychological subjects.

Finally, we propose a new analytical model through which to develop critical, challenging and supplementary perspectives on Behaviour Change. The book provides a model of ‘efficacy, ethics and empowerment’ to critically evaluate policies which are self-styled to change people’s behaviour. Efficacy calls scholars and practitioners of Behaviour Change to expand and extend effectiveness measures beyond questions of ‘what works’ in favour of wider-reaching questions of democratic legitimacy, long-term sustainability and a fuller understanding of the complex social drivers of ‘sensible’ behaviour. Ethics refers to a need to establish a set of checks and balances on the kinds of psychological, psychographic and geo-demographic power used in the fulfilment of Behaviour Change interventions. We ask, for instance, whether the behavioural agenda itself creates an irrational and risky underclass, echoing previous examples of victim-blaming in public policy. Our third analytical tranche, empowerment, serves to shed light on the potential for Behaviour Change policies to enable citizens to develop the capacity to act in the future, with a key emphasis on the community contexts and social infrastructures required to enable more- than-rational forms of decision-making. In this sense, we question whether the Behaviour Change agenda should be considered incompatible with wider cuts in the funding of civil society organizations, welfare and state institutions.

Throughout the book, a core concern for us in the context of the contemporary challenges facing higher education research in general has been to show the value of a strongly social theoretic approach, countering prevailing trends towards a (re-)turn to behaviouralism with the UK social sciences.

Load Profiles and Household Energy Use


(Source: National Grid, UK)

Earlier this week I attended a fascinating workshop on household energy practises at Durham University (hosted and organised by Harriet Bulkeley and her research team). The workshop was for an Social Science Advisory Group, which has been established to advise on Northern Powergrid and British Gas’s Customer Led Network Revolution. This scheme centres around the largest smart-grid project in the UK (involving 14,000 homes and costing £54 million to implement). While our discussions were broad ranging and considered the potential impacts on smart meeting and In-House Energy Displays on household energy usage, one of the most interesting things about the workshop for me was the perspective it provided on the processes that are driving the restructuring of the domestic and commercial energy market in the UK. 

While the move towards smart-grids and meters is, of course, being driven by a desire to reduce, in aggregate, household energy use and thus help the UK along the road to a lower carbon economy, it is also being conditioned by issues of daily household demand.

The diagram above is a load profile of energy use across the UK over the past 7 days (these profiles are available from the National Grid). What this load profile reveals are the daily fluctuations that exist in British energy use (with the expected peaks in the morning and evening periods). It is interesting to note that with the onset of the low carbon, electric economy, these peak energy use periods are likely to see more energy demand being placed upon them (as people plug in their electric cars after returning home from a long day of work). Given the great pressures that such load profiles place on energy supply networks during peak periods, energy suppliers are not only interested in how to make the home more energy efficient, but also how to redistribute energy use throughout the day.

The redistribution of energy use has, of course, been a long-time concern of energy suppliers. As a previous user of storage heaters I was able to make the most of the low, off-peak energy tariffs associated with the Economy Seven initiative. But current discussions about the timing of domestic energy practise have interesting implications for behaviour change policies. It appears that shifting people’s TV watching practises from the peak evening slot of 7-9pm will be difficult, as will moving the timing of when people cook their evening meals. There may be more flexibility, however, as to precisely when people choose to take a bath/shower or put their washing machines on. New tariffs are being used to incentivise off-peak energy use, but as all UK homes join smart grids over the next decade, it will be interesting to see just how flexible our domestic energy use routines actually are.


PPPOPP theories: the Power of Popular Psychology over Public Policy

It is intriguing to note how influential ideas translate into actually existing public policies which have very real impacts both on specific individuals and the wider population. And so, not satisfied with having designed a highly scientific diagrammatic model (see this earlier post), a useful mnemonic or acronym is also indispensable. Hence PPPOPP. Eventually, these insights will all come together in my forthcoming best-selling title: How to Change Other People’s Behaviour, essential reading for all those who wish to preserve their own intransigence.

Understanding Behaviour Change involves not only tracing its roots, in terms of the academic theories, disciplines and evidence marshalled in its development as a distinct set of policy solutions.  We also need to examine how and why particular sets of ideas get adopted and others not. In addition, looking at Behaviour Change in its wider context, it is possible to identify broader trends in the governance of the human subject which are worthy of more detailed analysis. As a start, then, it is worth considering how Behaviour Change fits in conceptually and methodologically with the movement for positive psychology, wellbeing and happiness, and to remember some more acronyms…

Libertarian Paternalism is of course a term which sounds far too jargonistic for some. But NUDGE, that is very easy to say. Cheating slightly, NUDGE summarises a suite of recommendations derived from the field of behavioural economics, standing for:


Understanding Mappings           


Give Feedback                

Expect Error 

Structure complex choices

Meanwhile MINDSPACE, a framework and toolkit developed by the Institute for Government and Cabinet Office derives its themes from a wider spectrum of the behavioural sciences of decision-making, standing for:










And PERMA denotes a set of ideas from positive psychology gaining increasing attention amongst policy strategists, politicians, and an emergent ‘happiness industry’. This one forwards an argument for the power of a mind trained in optimism to overcome adverse circumstances, from the work of Martin Seligman (author of Flourish, 2011), and stands for:

Positive emotion   





Leaving aside the issue of how all these kinds of knowledges reconfigure the human subject as an object of governance, just for now, let us consider instead some other psychological insights on ‘fluency’ which may have implications for the popularity of popular psychology in public policy. With thanks to Psychologist, Will Matthews for pointing me towards this area (have a look at his interesting work on the psychophysics of price). Adam Alter and Daniel Oppenheimer’s 2006 research has shown how stock market prices are correlated with the pronouncability of their names. Hence, easy to pronounce stocks consistently out-performed those with ‘disfluent’ names.  If it is not too much of a leap then, we might speculate that academic evidence presented as an easy to say acronym  will have much more impact on time-pressed professionals than, say, a paper entitled ‘Reflections on the rescientisation of decision making in British Public Policy’, or RRDMBPP (and that’s only half a title).  Well of course there’s a lot more to it than that, but it is worth bearing in mind when you find yourself marketing, branding and ‘impacting’ your next research project.


A ‘3E’ model of soft-paternalism

It seems that no ‘policy relevant’ research is complete without its own easy to remember, easy to say, easy to spell mnemonic or catchy abbreviation for you to take away and apply to all manner of related and not-so-related scenarios (more on the status of mnemonics in public policy later), so here is ours:

Another triangle

The UK Sustainable development strategy (2005, see also DEFRA 2007) developed the well-known ‘4Es’ framework (enabling, engaging, encouraging and exemplifying), only to be trumped by the Cabinet Office/Institute for Government’s ‘6Es’ model (adding explore and evaluate). But we have come up with our own ‘3Es’ to throw into the mix of important things beginning with E: efficacy, ethics and empowerment. Here I provide a quick summary as a taster for the analytical model we are developing in our forthcoming book, Changing Behaviours. On the Rise of the Psychological State, to be published in 2013 by Edward Elgar.


No we haven’t gone all instrumentalist on you. Our concern with efficacy is not to ask ‘does behaviour change work’, since there are plenty of people asking such a question. Rather, throughout our research we have sought to interrogate the grounds for evaluation as presented in behaviour change policies. First, this raises a concern with the monetisation of behaviour change outcomes in terms of VFM (value for money) or ROI (return on investment). Whilst these are clearly important where spending of public funds is concerned, we urge those evaluating behaviour change policies to consider alternative outcomes in terms of the quality of public deliberation engendered by such interventions.  Secondly, we want to draw attention to the need for long-term and large-scale measures of success, which may in fact defy measurement within the terms or resources of a single intervention. We are concerned to show how behaviour change evaluations may be based on a narrow conception of the times and spaces of decision-making, unable and unwilling to account for the socio-technical, cultural and environmental drivers of meaningful and sustainable social change.


Of course we are banging on about ethics like there’s no tomorrow, since this is notably absent from the other E models, and because it is the element most likely to evade measurement and audit.   Three main issues are worth considering, though there are no doubt many more. First, what is the political legitimacy of those designing behaviour change? Where novel governmental tactics exist to explicitly target the collective subconscious, where is the infrastructure to monitor and check this form of ‘psychocratic power’? Secondly, in the settling of new defaults, norms and social goods, how are notions of evidence, expertise and status advanced? I.e. who gets to say what is a desired behavioural outcome in any given situation? Related to this is a third concern, that in targeting behavioural interventions at those behaviours, segmented groups and individuals deemed less rational, does the behavioural agenda itself create and irrational an risky underclass, echoing previous examples of victim-blaming in public policy? This circularity issue is well known to students of political theory, and it remains crucial to ask whether and how behaviour change produces vulnerable subjects.


Finally, we argue that it is essential to evaluate behaviour change policies in terms of their potential for empowering citizens to develop the capacity to act in the future. We have identified that one of the unintended consequences of the sum total of behaviour change interventions is that the homo economicus presumed in prior economic accounts of decision-making is being replaced by a more psychologically inspired vision of the citizen fool. Following on from this is a perceived requirement for policy makers to create foolproof geographies based on naïve conceptions of time and space. And finally that such a decision-making environment removes opportunities for social learning. In its place, we argue for public policy interventions which value more-than-rational forms of decision-making, sensitive to inexpert knowledges, a wider spectrum of what counts of evidence and a more ambitious attitude to the possibility of social change.