Nudge a few thoughts on what we’ve learned

Nudge (or its academic title Behavioural Insights) is awesome. I love it. Its arguably under tested evidentially. There are some amazing examples of nudges and simple discrete behaviours, its tricker in complex systems.

We shouldn’t ignore it. we should embrace it. It may or may not be a panacea. Probably not, but that’s not reason to simply ignore it.


For me the key learning = we do what the person next to us is doing.

Eg- Everyone is doing it / not doing it (see here for neat eg-

There’s an amazing database of stuff here from Stirling. Courtesy @jjtm5

Here is my brief summary of three absolutely amazing papers I’ve read on nudge recently, which I think sum up “where we are” and what weve learned.


1) Nudging: A Very Short Guide. Cass R. Sunstein

Amazing short reference


Key bits

· reference peers, everyone is doing it. see above

· emphasise losses, more likely to lead to change in some contexts if you emphasis what will be lost rather than gained. 

· changing the defaults rules and options– opt out vs opt in. automatic enrolment in programs,

· social norms – (emphasizing what most people do, 9/10 people do xxxx, most people intend to …….)

· simplify – message, programme. Does anyone REALLY understand the CMO guideline on drinking. Simplify it. ditto exercice – 150 mins of MET5 or more exercise vs “move more than you do now”.

· increase ease and convenience – make healthier options more visible (eyeline) and cheaper. Make less healthy stuff out of eyeline and a bit more expensive.

· disclosure – the cost of xxxx is yyyy… did you know this. We pay £xxxx for prescribed paracetomol, this is the equivalent of xxxxx GPs or yyyy district nurses. The environmental clean up costs associated with litter is…. This is the equivalent of closing 4 day centres. Examples people engage with.

· warnings – graphic or otherwise

· address pre committment phases – move people towards actual change – get people to commit to a certain course of action

· elicit implementation intentions (do you plan to…..) People are more likely to engage in activity if someone elicits their implementation intentions.

· inform people of nature and consequences of own past choices. Eg the “midata project”. institutions often have a great deal of information about people’s own past choices. individuals often lack that information at the point of a decision. If people obtain it, their behaviour can shift,

· reminders – bill payment, upcoming appointment etc. well proven in some areas now. See the ace stuff re outpatient appointments, reminders combined with the cost of appointment. Halpern. Plos Medicine 2015


Report two -Behavioural Insights Team – annual report

Many examples of success, and non success across many areas

Full of bright ideas in multiple domains: 

· Health and Wellbeing

· Education and Skills

· Home Affairs

· Energy, Sustainability and Consumers

· Growth, Employment and Productivity

· Giving and Social Action

· Reducing Fraud, Error and Debt

· Manchester, Local and Devolved Authorities

· International Programmes

· Australia

· North America

· Singapore 

3) report three. Best of all

White House Office of Science and Technology


Stunning paper. Worth a read of all of it. White House advice to govt agencies. Here’s my gutting of the key bits


four principal areas of interest and application

1. Access to Programs

Central insight: Small barriers to program access can have large impacts on participation and outcomes


· Consider streamlining processes for enrolling in programs, such as by simplifying forms or making use of available administrative data

· Consider automatically enrolling eligible individuals

· Consider the impact of enrollment or application periods on program participation

· Consider revisiting program-eligibility criteria in cases where the benefits to targeting efficiency may be outweighed by the costs to program access and outcomes


2. Information provision

Central insight: How individuals understand and respond to information depends on its presentation


· Agencies should present information in a manner that is meaningful to the intended audience and that effectively promotes the intended use of that information

· Consider the salience of the information provided -The salience of information—how readily it commands attention—can affect how individuals interpret and act on the content

· Consider the framing of the information provided – consider how alternative ways of presenting the same information can affect how individuals understand and act on it.


3. Choices within programs

Central insight: Complex or difficult choices in programs can lead individuals to choose inconsistently


· Agencies should improve how choices are offered in programs

· Where complex choices are presented in programs, consider efforts to assist individuals with making those choices

· Review opportunities to use default settings or require active choices to assist individuals – Agencies should review how default choices are set within programs.

· Where programs offer many options, or options that differ in many ways, consider efforts to reduce the number and dimensionality of choices

· Where programs offer many options, or options that differ in many ways, consider efforts to reduce the number and dimensionality of choices – It should not be assumed that adding large numbers of program options, or allowing choices to vary along many dimensions, will necessarily lead to better outcomes for individuals

· Where programs entail implicit choices, consider efforts to assist individuals with those decisions


4. Incentive design

Central insight: How individuals respond to financial incentives depends on the framing and structure of those incentives; individuals also respond to nonfinancial incentives


· Agencies should consider efforts to enhance the effectiveness of program incentives

· When utilizing financial incentives, consider the salience of the incentive

· Consider the timing of incentives – Immediate incentives are likely to be more effective than delayed incentives

· Consider the reference points against which individuals may evaluate incentives when structuring and framing incentives – loss or gain psychology. We will go to great lengths to avert a loss. .individuals evaluate incentives relative to a reference point, and even very small incentives can have a large impact on behavior. Individuals may be more likely to respond to an incentive that is framed as a loss rather than as a gain, even when the two incentives are the same monetary amount.

· Consider the use of nonfinancial incentives – in many contexts, individuals are motivated by social comparisons, such as learning about the behavior of their peers

· Consider the relative efficiency of financial and nonfinancial incentives – Often, achieving a policy goal through the use of incentives entails paying individuals directly for engaging in a particular behavior, such as installing energy-efficient technologies in the home

Happy nudging.


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