Select Page


Ruth Schmidt

Applied behavioural design solutions and behavioural public policy interventions often start with the presumption that the environments into which they will be placed are stable, yet many behavioural policies and interventions occur within complex system contexts that are likely to change over time. As a result, while creating targeted, evidence-based solutions to address discrete behaviours in users’ immediate environments—often referred to as improved ‘choice architecture’—can help achieve directed behavioural change, behavioural design practitioners are also likely to benefit from new strategies that can help them see how larger system forces will impact (or be impacted by) new solutions. This suggests that designing for behaviour within complex systems may benefit from ways to understand how system and institutional ‘plumbing’—the underlying choice conditions, or ‘choice infrastructure’— enables and shapes behaviours, as well as how design efforts must recognise where behaviours, judgement, and decision-making are constrained by broader cultural or institutional ideologies that contribute to underlying paradigms, norms, and belief systems.

This paper proposes a model that practitioners can use to systematically capture various system forces that may impact human and system behaviour, as well as how these tensions might influence each other or support emergent behaviours and system conditions over time. The model takes the form of a matrix created by two complementary dimensions: first, the progressive scale of micro, meso, and macro system levels, and second, the increasingly embedded nature of system activity and mechanisms that build from targeted instances and interventions to underlying infrastructures that indirectly support behaviours, to ideological influences on behaviour in the form of mental models or belief systems that bound and shape behaviour within systems. After describing the rationale and conceptual model for this view, the paper uses the example of responsible research assessment (RRA) reform as an illustrative case. It concludes by suggesting how further interrogating the matrix content can provide new opportunities for behavioural systems design, helping practitioners explore the notion of system stability in complex system contexts, determining where potential areas of leverage may exist in the form of emergent activity or ‘hotspots’, and preventing against the potential of unintended consequences or inaction.

KEYWORDS: complex systems, systems design, behavioural design, choice infrastructure

RSD: Methods & Methodology, Policy & Governance




Citation Data

Author(s): Ruth Schmidt
Year: 2023
Title: Choice Conditions and Behavioural Leverage Points in Complex and Adaptive Systems
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD12
Article No.: pre-release
Host: Georgetown University
Location: Washington DC, USA
Symposium Dates: October 6–20, 2023
First published: 30 September 2023
Last update: no update
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404
Verified by MonsterInsights