Policy makers and social entrepreneurs take note. Do you have a “nudge unit”? Should you?
This is the theory in behavioural science/economics that positive re-inforcements and related indirect suggestions are more effective than many traditional legislative and regulatory frameworks. A subtle and repeatable way to influence the “choices architecture”.
i.e Putting fruit & healthy food at eye-level in a supermarket, perhaps even lines on a road?
A nudge, as we will use the term, is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. To count as a mere nudge, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. Nudges are not mandates. Putting fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not.
[Source: Nudge 2009 – Thaler & Sunstein ]
A topic I first became aware of in 2012, via an aptly named article in The Economist [being a Python fan] titled Nudge Nudge, Think Think. This highlighted the promise of behavioural economics improving the effectiveness of government. Ben Newell, Associate Professor of Cognitive Psychology at UNSW wrote a piece in The Conversation in 2014 after attending the first global behavioural insights conference in Sydney, Behavioural Exchange. He rightly points out the need to “hasten slowly” and avoid the “file drawer” problem of failed experiments. An article considering the “Limits of Nudging” was also published in The Economist in July 2015,
The podcast panel includes David Halpern, [ @B_I_Tweets ] CEO & Director of Behavioural Insights, which was originally the British Behavioural Insights Team within British Cabinet Office, often referred to as the ‘Nudge Unit’ and Prof. Abigail Payne, Director and Ronald Henderson Professor of the Melbourne Institute [@MelbInstUOM]. Together, the panel covers in detail the promise [and some limits] of ‘nudging’, as well as some of the ethical issues raised.
An illuminating and worthwhile discussion that I would recommend to anyone in the business of engaging minds and changing behaviour.
Note: Behavioural Insights is a “social purpose company” in the UK, they are jointly owned by the UK Government; Nesta (the innovation charity); and employees.
- How is nudge improving public policy? – The Policy Shop Podcast.
- Behavioural Insights – Social Purpose Company
- British Behavioural Insights Team
- Melbourne Institute
- Nudge 2009 – Thaler & Sunstein [ Penguin Books]
- Nudge Theory
- Nudge, Nudge, Think Think. 2012 – Economist- Know what I mean?
- Nudging’ people towards changing behaviour: what works and why (not)? – The Conversation 2014
- The Limits of Nudging – 2015 – Economist