TRS.20.023 – Prompted Rationality: Roadmaps to a New Public Policy for Promoting Autonomous Choice and Societal Benefits

Route: Towards resilient societies

Cluster question: 038 How do we strike the right balance between freedom and responsibility (individual and collective)?

What should governments do to engage people with the common good when it is not so obvious in what way people will experience benefit for themselves? What, for instance, is the best response to the declining willingness to get vaccinations for personal concerns about side effects? Or to parents opting for primary schools with fewer pupils from migrant descent to promote their own children’s school career? Resolving this kind of problems has proven impossible when governments keep grounding their public policies on classic models of governance that either emphasize free choice (libertarian) or direction of choice by the well-known carrot or stick (paternalistic).
Our research program proposes an innovative framework for the design of public policies that go beyond the distinction between libertarian and paternalistic perspectives. It’s objective is to elucidate new design principles for public policies to reconcile personal and societal interest. Our approach is unique as for the first time a comprehensive effort is made to align multidisciplinary expertise from leading scholars of public administration, psychology, law, ethics, political science, economics, design, and data science to investigate the problem of involving people with the common good.
We introduce the novel model of Prompted Rationality as the foundation of a new public policy. This model is based on philosophical/psychological critiques of ‘rational man’ approaches to decision making and rests on two key principles: 1) autonomy exists in people’s ability to act upon goals that emerge in person-environment interaction, and 2) people are inherently empathic in that embodied mechanisms enable them to predict and emotionally evaluate the consequences of their actions for others as if it concerned themselves. Rational choice then is the result of an optimal balance between autonomy and empathy with others. Public policy arrangements informed by this model are called prompts, hence our model of Prompted Rationality.


Autonomy. Choice. Public Policy. Societal Benefit. Complex Systems.

Other organisations

Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), EUR, TU


Organisation Utrecht University (UU)
Name Prof. Dr. Denise de Ridder