How to judge Behavioral Economics interventions: raw impact or ROI?

There is a common criticism of Behavioral Economics interventions regarding the scale of their impact. While their results are admitted as quite predictables and reproductibles across contexts, the same results are then qualified as “modest”. Through this prism, BE is not criticized for the reliability of its results but for for their small scale, which makes BE interventions seem, in both the public and private sector, like cute innovative work that doesn’t quite move the needle in terms of public policy impact or revenue impact.

And this criticism is true, for many cases, but misses the main point of many BE interventions: their cost is negligible, sometimes even inexistent. Daniel Kahneman says it best:

I am very optimistic about the future of that work, which is characterized by achieving medium-sized gains by nano-sized investments. — Daniel Kahneman

Many BE interventions won’t solve large-scale issues, and won’t move the needle by themselves. But their cost is negligible and their ease of implementation important, and they compound, so the long-term impact of a BE program will move the needle, and deliver a ROI that will be very enticing.

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