By Alejandra Reyes-Velarde
UCLA Luskin student writer
Urban Planning lecturer Stephen Commins was part of a team of researchers that wrote the World Bank’s new World Development Report for 2015, Mind, Society and Behavior, published on Dec. 4.
The report focuses on understanding human behavior for economic development, psychological and social perspectives on policy. It aims to capture how the processes of the mind and the influence of society can improve implementation of development policies and interventions that target behavior.
Commins said he thinks the report asks very different questions about the nature of public policy and the role of government and the way we understand poverty and power than what has been the standard approach to development.
“People are social beings and have a sense of social bonding. This is not surprising but it’s surprising that it hasn’t been taken into account more frequently,” he said. Commins also wrote a piece about the report for Public World blog.
Though it is typically assumed in economic policy making that people think rationally, the report finds more complex and thorough information about how people make decisions. It finds that people think automatically, socially and with mental models which are drawn from social networks, norms and shared history and society.
The goal is to integrate these findings into policy making and practice and make them available for systemic use by organizations and professional staff working in diverse countries and communities. The findings apply both to these professionals and to individuals in developing countries.
Commins said there has been huge international interest in the report. His role is to bridge the gap between the external audience and authors. He does this by managing events with professionals and government officials around the world to discuss the report’s main ideas and helping them think through what it means for practice and implementing policies in different countries.
Commins also worked with the report’s authors to discuss key issues and think about the larger puzzles with a small group of experts on the subjects. Since he was not an author himself, Commins played the role of a neutral party to give suggestions about what could be improved, what ideas to include. He had the most input in the health, development professionals and policy implementation chapters.
“With any author, they can get tied into the subject and not think about who’s going to use it. I tried to think about the external audience and how to make the report easier to implement,” he said.
Commins said he particularly enjoyed the subject of the behavior of development professionals and that it was a critical chapter.
“It would be easy to read the report and say poor people have certain behaviors or are limited in perspective, but the flipside is that actually everyone has limited perspectives and bias,” he said. “How academic and development professionals look at their work and how they criticize themselves is important as well.”
Commins is also the associate director of Global Public Affairs at UCLA Luskin, which addresses problems and processes of global public affairs through teaching, research, and partnerships and offers preparation for students seeking international careers.
He said the world report can help students in GPA to prepare to become insightful and competent professionals by helping them learn how to ask good questions, be self critical and understand the culture and context of their work.