Nudge, nudge, think, think: Experimenting with ways to change citizen behaviour

Book (New Second Edition) by Peter John, Sarah Cotterill, Alice Moseley, Liz Richardson, Graham Smith, Gerry Stoker and Corinne Wales: “How can governments persuade their citizens to act in socially beneficial ways? This ground-breaking book builds on the idea of ‘light touch interventions’ or ‘nudges’ proposed in Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s highly influential Nudge (2008). While recognising the power of this approach, it argues that an alternative also needs to be considered: a ‘think’ strategy that calls on citizens to decide their own priorities as part of a process of civic and democratic renewal. As well as setting out these divergent approaches in theory, the book provides evidence from a number of experiments to show how using ‘nudge’ or ‘think’ techniques works in practice.

Updated and rewritten, this second edition features a new epilogue that reflects on recent developments in nudge theory and practice, introducing a radical version of nudge, ‘nudge plus’. There is also a substantial prologue by Cass Sunstein….(More)”.

Can we nudge farmers into saving water? Evidence from a randomised experiment

Paper by Sylvain Chabé-Ferret, Philippe Le Coent, Arnaud Reynaud, Julie Subervie and Daniel Lepercq: “We test whether social comparison nudges can promote water-saving behaviour among farmers as a complement to traditional CAP measures. We conducted a randomised controlled trial among 200 farmers equipped with irrigation smart meters in South-West France. Treated farmers received weekly information on individual and group water consumption over four months. Our results rule out medium to large effect-sizes of the nudge. Moreover, they suggest that the nudge was effective at reducing the consumption of those who irrigate the most, although it appears to have reduced the proportion of those who do not consume water at all….(More)”.

Nagging misconceptions about nudge theory

Cass Sunstein at The Hill: “Nudges are private or public initiatives that steer people in particular directions but that also allow them to go their own way.

A reminder is a nudge; so is a warning. A GPS device nudges; a default rule, automatically enrolling people in some program, is a nudge.

To qualify as a nudge, an initiative must not impose significant economic incentives. A subsidy is not a nudge; a tax is not a nudge; a fine or a jail sentence is not a nudge. To count as such, a nudge must fully preserve freedom of choice.

In 2009, University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler and I co-wrote a book that drew on research in psychology and behavioral economics to help people and institutions, both public and private, improve their decision-making.

In the 10 years since “Nudge” was published, there has been an extraordinary outpouring of new thought and action, with particular reference to public policy.

Behavioral insight teams, or “nudge units” of various sorts, can be found in many nations, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, United Kingdom, the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, Singapore, Japan and Qatar.

Those teams are delivering. By making government more efficient, and by improving safety and health, they are helping to save a lot of money and a lot of lives. And in many countries, including the U.S., they don’t raise partisan hackles; both Democrats and Republicans have enthusiastically embraced them.   

Still, there are a lot of mistakes and misconceptions out there, and they are diverting attention and hence stalling progress. Here are the three big ones:

1. Nudges do not respect freedom. …

2. Nudges are based on excessive trust in government...

3. Nudges cannot achieve a whole lot.…(More)”.

How nudge theory is ageing well

Julian Baggini at the Financial Times: “A decade ago, Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler’s book Nudge was on the desk of every serious politician and policy wonk. Its central thesis was alluringly simple: by changing the environment in which we make decisions — the “choice architecture” — people could be encouraged to do things that were good for them and for society without governments compelling them to do anything.

The idea hit the liberal sweet-spot, promising maximum social impact for minimal interference with personal freedom. In 2010, Britain’s government set up its Behavioural Insights Team — popularly known as the “nudge unit” — to put these ideas into practice.

Around the world, others followed. Sunstein is justly proud that 10m poor American children now get free breakfast and lunch during the academic year as a result of just one such intervention making enrolment for free school meals automatic.

Ten years on, Sunstein has produced two new books to win over the unconverted and boost the faith of true believers. One, On Freedom, is a tiny, commuter-friendly pamphlet between hard covers. The other, Trusting Nudges, co-authored with the behavioural economist Lucia A Reisch, is a short, thoughtful, measured and important analysis of what citizens actually think about nudging and why that matters — albeit with the dry, academic furniture of endless tables, footnotes and technical appendices.

Despite the stylistic gulf between them, the two books are best read together as a response to those who would like to give nudges the nudge, claiming that they are covert, manipulative, an insult to human agency and place too much trust in governments and too little on human reason. Not only that, but for all the hype, nudges only work at the margins, delivering relatively minor results without having any major impact on poverty, inequity or inequality.

On Freedom economically and elegantly takes apart the accusation that nudges undermine liberty. Sunstein rightly points out that a nudge is only a nudge by definition if it leaves the nudged able to choose otherwise. For example, the system adopted by several jurisdictions to put people on organ donation registers by default carries with it the right to opt out. Nor are the best nudges covert.

There may not be a sign at the canteen telling you that healthy foods have been put at the front because that’s where you’re more likely to choose them but organisations that adopt this as a policy can and should do so openly. Sunstein’s most important argument is that “we cannot wish choice architecture away”: something has to be on the supermarket shelves that people tend to take more from, something has to be the default for benefit claims. The question is not whether we nudge but how we do so: with forethought or without….(More)”

Technology-facilitated Societal Consensus

Paper by Timotheus Kampik and Amro Najjar: “The spread of radical opinions, facilitated by homophilic Internet communities (echo chambers), has become a threat to the stability of societies around the globe. The concept of choice architecture–the design of choice information for consumers with the goal of facilitating societally beneficial decisions–provides a promising (although not uncontroversial) general concept to address this problem.

The choice architecture approach is reflected in recent proposals advocating for recommender systems that consider the societal impact of their recommendations and not only strive to optimize revenue streams.

However, the precise nature of the goal state such systems should work towards remains an open question. In this paper, we suggest that this goal state can be defined by considering target opinion spread in a society on different topics of interest as a multivariate normal distribution; i.e., while there is a diversity of opinions, most people have similar opinions on most topics. We explain why this approach is promising, and list a set of crossdisciplinary research challenges that need to be solved to advance the idea….(More)”.

Nudging the dead: How behavioural psychology inspired Nova Scotia’s organ donation scheme

Joseph Brean at National Post: “Nova Scotia’s decision to presume people’s consent to donating their organs after death is not just a North American first. It is also the latest example of how deeply behavioural psychology has changed policy debates.

That is a rare achievement for science. Governments used to appeal to people’s sense of reason, religion, civic duty, or fear of consequences. Today, when they want to change how their citizens behave, they use psychological tricks to hack their minds.

Nudge politics, as it came to be known, has been an intellectual hit among wonks and technocrats ever since Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in 2002 for destroying the belief people make decisions based on good information and reasonable expectations. Not so, he showed. Not even close. Human decision-making is an organic process, all but immune to reason, but strangely susceptible to simple environmental cues, just waiting to be exploited by a clever policymaker….

Organ donation is a natural fit. Nova Scotia’s experiment aims to solve a policy problem by getting people to do what they always tend to do about government requests — nothing.

The cleverness is evident in the N.S. government’s own words, which play on the meaning of “opportunity”: “Every Nova Scotian will have the opportunity to be an organ and tissue donor unless they opt out.” The policy applies to kidneys, pancreas, heart, liver, lungs, small bowel, cornea, sclera, skin, bones, tendons and heart valves.

It is so clever it aims to make progress as people ignore it. The default position is a positive for the policy. It assumes poor pickup. You can opt out of organ donation if you want. Nova Scotia is simply taking the informed gamble that you probably won’t. That is the goal, and it will make for a revealing case study.

Organ donation is an important question, and chronically low donation rates can reasonably be called a crisis. But most people make their personal choice “thoughtlessly,” as Kahneman wrote in the 2011 book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

He referred to European statistics which showed vast differences in organ donation rights between neighbouring and culturally similar countries, such as Sweden and Denmark, or Germany and Austria. The key difference, he noted, was what he called “framing effects,” or how the question was asked….(More)”.

So Many Nudges, So Little Time: Can Cost-effectiveness Tell Us When It Is Worthwhile to Try to Change Provider Behavior?

Paper by David Atkins: “Interest in behavioral economics has grown steadily within health care. Policy makers, payers, and providers now recognize that the decisions of patients and of their doctors frequently deviate from the strictly “rational” choices that classical economic theory would predict. For example, patients rarely adhere to the medication regimens or health behaviors that would optimize their health outcomes, and clinicians often make decisions that conflict with evidence-based recommendations or even the practices they profess to endorse. The groundbreaking work of psychologist Daniel Kahneman and his collaborator Amos Tversky raised attention to this field, which was accelerated by Kahneman’s 2002 Nobel Prize in economics and his popular 2011 book “Thinking Fast and Slow” which reached a much broader audience.

Behavioral economics examines cognitive, psychological, and cultural factors that may influence how we make decisions, resulting in behavior that another Nobel laureate, economist Richard Thaler, has termed “predictably irrational.” Principles from behavioral economics have been adopted to health care, including the role of heuristics (rules of thumb), the importance of framing, and the effects of specific cognitive biases (for example, overconfidence and status quo bias).

These principles have been incorporated into interventions that seek to use these insights to change health-related behaviors—these include nudges, where systems are redesigned to make the preferred choice the default choice (for example, making generic versions the default in electronic prescribing); incentive programs that reward patients for taking their medications on schedule or getting preventive interventions like immunizations; and specific interventions aimed at how clinicians respond to information or make decisions….(More)”.

How Effective Is Nudging? A Quantitative Review on the Effect Sizes and Limits of Empirical Nudging Studies

Paper by Dennis Hummel and Alexander Maedche: “Changes in the choice architecture, so-called nudges, have been employed in a variety of contexts to alter people’s behavior. Although nudging has gained a widespread popularity, the effect sizes of its influences vary considerably across studies. In addition, nudges have proven to be ineffective or even backfire in selected studies which raises the question whether, and under which conditions, nudges are effective. Therefore, we conduct a quantitative review on nudging with 100 primary publications including 317 effect sizes from different research areas. We derive four key results. (1) A morphological box on nudging based on eight dimensions, (2) an assessment of the effectiveness of different nudging interventions, (3) a categorization of the relative importance of the application context and the nudge category, and (4) a comparison of nudging and digital nudging. Thereby, we shed light on the (in)effectiveness of nudging and we show how the findings of the past can be used for future research. Practitioners, especially government officials, can use the results to review and adjust their policy making….(More)”.

A theoretical framework explaining the mechanisms of nudging

Paper by Löfgren, Åsa & Nordblom, Katarina: “…we develop a theoretical model to clarify the underlying mechanisms that drive individual decision making and responses to behavioral interventions, such as nudges. The contribution of the paper is three-fold: First, the model provides a theoretical framework that comprehensively structures the individual decision-making process applicable to a wide range of choice situations. Second, we reduce the confusion regarding what should be called a nudge by offering a clear classification of behavioral interventions. We distinguish among what we label as pure nudges, preference nudges, and other behavioral interventions. Third, we identify the mechanisms behind the effectiveness of behavioral interventions based on the structured decision-making process. Hence, the model can be used to predict under which circumstances, and in which choice situations, a nudge is likely to be effective….(More)”

Applying behavioral insights to improve postsecondary education outcomes

Brookings: “Policymakers under President Obama implemented behaviorally-informed policies to improve college access, completion, and affordability. Given the complexity of the college application process, many of these policies aimed to simplify college and financial aid application processes and reduce informational barriers that students face when evaluating college options. Katharine Meyer and Kelly Ochs Rosinger summarize empirical evidence on these policies and conclude that behaviorally-informed policies play an important role, especially as supplements to (rather than replacements for) broader structural changes. For example, recent changes in the FAFSA filing timeline provided students with more time to complete the form. But this large shift may be more effective in changing behavior when accompanied by informational campaigns and nudges that improve students’ understanding of the new system. Governments and colleges can leverage behavioral science to increase awareness of student support services if more structural policy changes occur to provide the services in the first place….(More)”.