European Policy: A Nudge in the Right Direction

Snyder, Madeleine in the Harvard International Review: A man in the UK opens his email after receiving his monthly energy bill. Along with a smorgasbord of information about energy conservation and his current spending on energy, he sees how much he could potentially save by doing small things, like insulating doors and windows and using more efficient light bulbs. The next day at the supermarket he passes an aisle filled with draft blockers and LED lights. Remembering the email and that potential 200 pound saving, he purchases three energy efficient light bulbs and schedules to have his door reinsulated. This is one example of a new technique the UK government is using to encourage citizens to be ecofriendly, while avoiding the pitfalls of expensive public policy.

In 2010, the UK partnered with an intelligence and consulting company to give its more ineffective and expensive policies a nudge in the right direction. The aptly named Nudge Unit, or more formally, the Behavioral Insights Team (BIT) is co-directed by the UK Cabinet Office and Nesta, the leading UK charity for innovation. The BIT uses ‘nudging’, or’behavioral insights’, at the intersection of psychology, political theory, behavioral economics, and social anthropology, to engineer more effective and efficient policy to influence social behavior. Policy goals range from getting more people to save for a pension or actively look for a job if they become unemployed, to encouraging people to recycle or donate to charity.

But what exactly counts as a ‘nudge’? According to Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, authors of the book Nudge, it 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. “Thus including more footage of actors recycling in popular TV shows counts as nudging, but limiting trash collection to once a month and expanding recycling pickup to twice a week does not. Nudging is all about using incentives, responses, and psychology to design effective policy.

Beyond working closely with the UK government, the BIT helps other companies, small businesses, and charities use behavioral insights to improve internal affairs and productivity. …

The key to BIT policy and the bulk of step three is the Easy, Attractive, Social, and Timely (EAST) set of insights. Study results from the BIT indicate that the most effective policies incorporate all four of these….(More)”.