The nation that thrived by ‘nudging’ its population

Sarah Keating at the BBC: “Singapore has grown from almost nothing in 50 years. And this well-regarded society has been built up, partly, thanks to the power of suggestion….But while Singapore still loves a public campaign, it has moved toward a more nuanced approach of influencing the behaviours of its inhabitants.

Nudging the population isn’t uniquely Singaporean; more than 150 governments across the globe have tried nudging as a better choice. A medical centre in Qatar, for example, managed to increase the uptake of diabetes screening by offering to test people during Ramadan. People were fasting anyway so the hassle of having to not eat before your testing was removed. It was convenient and timely, two key components to a successful nudge.

Towns in Iceland, India and China have trialed ‘floating zebra crossings’ – 3D optical illusions which make the crossings look like they are floating above the ground designed to urge drivers to slow down. And in order to get people to pay their taxes in the UK, people were sent a letter saying that the majority of taxpayers pay their taxes on time which has had very positive results. Using social norms make people want to conform.

In Singapore some of the nudges you come across are remarkably simple. Rubbish bins are placed away from bus stops to separate smokers from other bus users. Utility bills display how your energy consumption compares to your neighbours. Outdoor gyms have been built near the entrances and exits of HDB estates so they are easy to use, available and prominent enough to consistently remind you. Train stations have green and red arrows on the platform indicating where you should stand so as to speed up the alighting process. If you opt to travel at off-peak times (before 0700), your fare is reduced.

And with six out of 10 Singaporeans eating at food courts four or more times a week, getting people to eat healthier is also a priority. As well as the Healthier Dining Programme, some places make it cheaper to take the healthy option. If you’re determined to eat that Fried Bee Hoon at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, for example, you’re going to have to pay more for it.

The National Steps Challenge, which encourages participants to get exercising using free step counters in exchange for cash and prizes, has been so successful that the programme name has been trademarked. This form of gamifying is one of the more successful ways of engaging users in achieving objectives. Massive queues to collect the free fitness tracker demonstrated the programme’s popularity.

And it’s not just in tangible ways that nudges are being rolled out. Citizens pay into a mandatory savings programme called the Central Provident Fund at a high rate. This can be accessed for healthcare, housing and pensions as a way to get people to save long-term because evidence has shown that people are too short-sighted when it comes to financing their future

And as the government looks to increase the population 30% by 2030, the city-state’s ageing population and declining birth rate is a problem. The Baby Bonus Scheme goes some way to encouraging parents to have more children by offering cash incentives. Introduced in 2001, the scheme means that all Singapore citizens who have a baby get a cash gift as well as a money into a Child Development Account (CDA) which can be used to pay for childcare and healthcare. The more children you have, the more money you get – since March 2016 you get a cash gift of $8,000 SGD (£4,340) for your first child and up to $10,000 (£5,430) for the third and any subsequent children, as well as money into your CDA.

So do people like being nudged? Is there any cultural difference in the way people react to being swayed toward a ‘better’ choice or behaviour? Given the breadth of the international use of behavioural insights, there is relatively little research done into whether people are happy about it….(More)”.