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Why Knowing What To Do Is Not Enough

A Realistic Perspective on Self-Reliance

  • Book
  • Open Access
  • © 2019

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  • The first open access book to take the next step in a line of research on the limitations of human capacities in the context of society
  • Provides insights that will inspire policy makers to take on a more realistic perspective on the capacities of people in policy preparation, content and implementation
  • Focuses on the importance of non-cognitive capacities, referred to as the ‘capacity to act’

Part of the book series: Research for Policy (RP)

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Table of contents (6 chapters)


About this book

This open access book sets out to explain the reasons for the gap between “knowing” and “doing” in view of self-reliance, which is more and more often expected of citizens. In today’s society, people are expected to take responsibility for their own lives and be self-reliant. This is no easy feat. They must be on constant high alert in areas of life such as health, work and personal finances and, if things threaten to go awry, take appropriate action without further ado.

What does this mean for public policy? Policymakers tend to assume that the government only needs to provide people with clear information and that, once properly informed, they will automatically do the right thing. However, it is becoming increasingly obvious that things do not work like that. Even though people know perfectly well what they ought to do, they often behave differently.

Why is this? This book sets out to explain the reasons for the gap between ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’. It focuses on the role of non-cognitive capacities, such as setting goals, taking action, persevering and coping with setbacks, and shows how these capacities are undermined by adverse circumstances. By taking the latest psychological insights fully into account, this book presents a more realist perspective on self-reliance, and shows government officials how to design rules and institutions that allow for the natural limitations in people’s ‘capacity to act’.

Authors and Affiliations

  • Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy, The Hague, The Netherlands

    Anne-Greet Keizer, Will Tiemeijer, Mark Bovens

About the authors

Anne-Greet Keizer is senior research fellow and international liaison of the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy. She studied Public Administration and Arts & Culture at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. She was subsequently employed in the Public Administration Department at Leiden University, where she worked as a lecturer and a researcher on the project 'The Renaissance of Public Administration'. Anne-Greet has worked at the Scientific Council for Government Policy since 2005. Her work has focused among other things on topics such as think tanks, the advisory system, information and policy, and cultural policy. She is currently coordinator of the project ‘Uncertainty and social discontent’. As international liaison she is responsible for maintaining the Council’s international contacts, together with the chair and director. She is also executive secretary of the European Science Advisors Forum (ESAF).

Will Tiemeijer is senior research fellow at the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy. From 1989 to 2007 he held various posts at the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, specialising in communication and research. He obtained his doctorate at Tilburg University in 2006 for his thesis ‘The Secret of the Citizen: On the State and Public Opinion Research’ (Het geheim van de burger: over staat en opinieonderzoek), which was also awarded the G.A. van Poelje Prize by the Dutch Association for Public Administration (Vereniging voor Bestuurskunde). Will has worked at the WRR since 2007, specialising in topics in the fields of psychology, philosophy and politics. He has been responsible among other things for a series of publications on the psychology of choice and the relevance of behavioural sciences for politics and policy. In 2016/17, Will was also attached as a fellow to the Center for Advanced Studies of the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University.

 Mark Bovens has been appointed as a member of the Council with effect from 1 January 2013. He is attached to the Utrecht University School of Governance (USG) as Professor of Public Administration. Bovens studied administrative law, political science and philosophy at Leiden University and at Columbia University Law School in New York. Central themes in his research include public accountability, democracy, the constitutional state and citizenship in the information society, political trust, and success and failure of policy. His most recent book is called ‘Diploma democracy: the rise of political meritocracy’, co-authored by Anchrit Wille. At the WRR, Mark was responsible for publications on internal checks and balances in public organizations, societal divisions and migration. He currently chairs projects on ‘Migration diversity’ and ‘Uncertainty and social discontent’.

Bibliographic Information

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