Elinor Ostrom at her 2009 Nobel lecture said:

“Designing institutions to force (or nudge) entirely self-interested individuals to achieve better outcomes has been the major goal posited by policy analysts for governments to accomplish for much of the past half century. Extensive empirical research leads me to argue that instead, a core goal of public policy should be to facilitate the development of institutions that bring out the best in humans.”

As neo-liberalism dies, the one common denominator of emerging economic thinking is that Governments should be more activist. Governments are called on to be ‘entrepreneurial’ and ‘shape markets’ by Mariana Mazzucato, to deliver Green New Deals by the environmental movement, build more social housing etc etc. And now we have a self-described ‘Brexity Hezza’ as both PM and effectively Chancellor it would seem – ‘Hezza’ being Michael Heseltine’s nickname, who was famous back in the day for policy activism in Thatcher’s government.

So how should Governments act if they took Ostrom’s finding seriously? What is the problem with ‘nudging’, forcing or even incentivising anyway? What would institutions look like that ‘bring out the best in humans’? And what, or rather who might be catalysts and what could they have to do with governments?

Henry Leveson-Gower will seek to answer these questions and propose a new ‘catalytic’ approach to Government action which he believes has the potential to facilitate the type of system changes we so urgently need in this decade and beyond. This approach draws on institutional economics, practical innovations in cooperative design and his experience as a policy maker.

Orit Gal, a complexity economist interested in decision making in complex systems, will open the discussion followed by general discussion before a wine reception.


Henry Leveson-Gower has over 25 years experience of applying a pluralist approach to economics to inform environmental policy in the UK and internationally. He is CEO and founder of PEP, editor of The Mint Magazine and a part-time senior policy adviser at Defra. This presentation draws particularly on his work as a research fellow at the Centre for Evaluating Complexity Across The Nexus at the University of Surrey in 2017. He is also a fellow of The RSA, has a degree in philosophy and is a qualified chartered accountant.

Dr Orit Gal is currently a Senior Lecturer for Strategy and Complexity at Regent’s University London, and Founder at Urbaniser app, Orit is a political economist with a deep curiosity for the inner workings of complex social systems. An expert generalist, she has worked in tech start-ups; corporate market research; peace-building NGOs; and innovative policy and military think-tanks. Having the opportunity to closely observe decision makers operating in messy, dynamic, and highly complex environments, she has focused her work on exploring the intersection between complexity science and effective operational design.

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