“Nudge units” – where they came from and what they can do

Zeina Afif at the Worldbank: “You could say that the first one began in 2009, when the US government recruited Cass Sunstein to head The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to streamline regulations. In 2010, the UK established the first Behavioural Insights Unit (BIT) on a trial basis, under the Cabinet Office. Other countries followed suit, including the US, Australia, Canada, Netherlands, and Germany. Shortly after, countries such as India, Indonesia, Peru, Singapore, and many others started exploring the application of behavioral insights to their policies and programs. International institutions such as the World Bank, UN agencies, OECD, and EU have also established behavioral insights units to support their programs. And just this month, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland launched its own Behavioral Economics Unit.

The Future
As eMBeD, the behavioral science unit at the World Bank, continues to support governments across the globe in the implementation of their units, here are some common questions we often get asked.

What are the models for a Behavioral Insights Unit in Government?
As of today, over a dozen countries have integrated behavioral insights with their operations. While there is not one model to prescribe, the setup varies from centralized or decentralized to networked….

In some countries, the units were first established at the ministerial level. One example is MineduLab in Peru, which was set up with eMBeD’s help. The unit works as an innovation lab, testing rigorous and leading research in education and behavioral science to address issues such as teacher absenteeism and motivation, parents’ engagement, and student performance….

What should be the structure of the team?
Most units start with two to four full-time staff. Profiles include policy advisors, social psychologists, experimental economists, and behavioral scientists. Experience in the public sector is essential to navigate the government and build support. It is also important to have staff familiar with designing and running experiments. Other important skills include psychology, social psychology, anthropology, design thinking, and marketing. While these skills are not always readily available in the public sector, it is important to note that all behavioral insights units partnered with academics and experts in the field.

The U.S. team, originally called the Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, is staffed mostly by seconded academic faculty, researchers, and other departmental staff. MineduLab in Peru partnered with leading experts, including the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), Fortalecimiento de la Gestión de la Educación (FORGE), Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), and the World Bank….(More)”