Model of Human Fallibility: Traveling Behavioral Assumptions in Public Governance

Trine Pallesen, Kirstine Zinck Pedersen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Over the past decades, insights from behavioral sciences have gained traction as sources for designing public policy and for governing areas of collective concerns. It has become increasingly common to ascribe ‘flawed’ decision-making to systematic heuristics and cognitive biases of citizens and experts. This popular behavioral approach to public organizing is anchored in a very particular model of human behavior, namely what we label homo fallibilis or the model human fallibility. This model grew out of a critique of neoclassical economics’ homo economicus but ended as a new recipe for predicting and regulating human behavior. To conceptualize the model of human fallibility and to understand its ability to travel intellectually and empirically, we trace it historically to Simon’s bounded rationality, over Tversky and Kahneman’s systematic biases and to recent nudge literature. Next, we illustrate how and by what means the model travels into different areas of public service provision in strikingly similar ways. We finally suggest that the model of human fallibility risks giving way to an “anti-human stance” that promotes a particular type of behavioral design in ever more areas of public governance at the expense of alternative ways of governing that enhance discretion, expertise, training, and habituation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPerspectives on Public Management and Governance
Issue number2-3
Pages (from-to)119-130
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Published online: 01 April 2023.

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