Nudge-Policy: Does the nudge-approach lack ambition?

Feb 4, 2013 by

Nudge-Policy: Does the nudge-approach lack ambition?

 

The nudge-approach to policy making is an efficient and costless tool, as well as non-invasive on citizens’ privacy and autonomy. But does it lack ambition?

Can nudges solve big problems?

In a recent New York Times Op-ed, David Brooks praises the impact psychological insights have had on policy making and economy. He mentions quite a few examples on how attention to psychological factors have created insights and solutions for a variety of problems. In fact he states that the interplay between psychological insights and policy making holds great potential.

Although Brooks does not mention ‘nudge’ in the piece, some of the examples he mentions are well-known nudges. For instance, he writes that ”One of the things we know is that seemingly trivial changes can have big effects.”  This is very much in line with the nudge-approach to behavioral change and will probably strike regular readers of the iNudgeyou-blog as very familiar.

The main message of his Op-ed is that although behavioral insights have helped the creation of many solutions and great policies, the ambitions are missing:

My problem with these efforts is that they are still so modest. What about the big problems? How do we get people to restrain government commitments now so that debt down the road won’t be so ruinous? (…) How do we rig the context of budget negotiations so participants can actually come to a deal? How are people in different cultures likely to react to drone strikes?(…)

 

Need for a nudge-unit at Uni?

In a response to Brooks’ piece, the blog Mind Over Minerals published a post with considerations on the basis of Brooks’ claim about modesty in the problems being attended to with tools from behavioral insights.

This piece mentions the possibility of applying nudges at universities. More specifically, the piece calls for ”nudge units” that should function as The Behavioral Inisights Team, but on university wide scale rather than government wide. The idea is to help students easier through the processes that involve interaction and coordination with the various divisions of university administration. This is a rather good idea. Without hurting anyone’s feelings, we can state that behavioral insights definitely would improve a variety of unnecessarily bureaucratic processes as well as helping improve coordination between universities, researchers and students.

 

Future for behavioral insights in policy making

Left is the question of scale raised by Brooks: Is the claim true? Does the nudge-approach to behavioral change lack ambition? Or will nudges evolve into a trusted instrument for behavioral change for policy makers on important issues, as behavioral insights keep proving to be efficient and non-invasive tools on a small-scale basis?

As the nudge-approach to behavioral change keep proving an efficient and nearly costless tool for policy makers, we do not see any reason why behavioral insights should not be used on the problems Brooks calls for. However, the small battles must be won, before we can win the war. There seems to be no reason why nudges should not help policy makers on the big issues. This is especially the case, as long as behavioral insights prove to be successful and used responsibly by policy makers on a smaller scale.

Both of the referenced pieces are well-written and definitely worth checking out. Find Brooks’ piece here and the response from Mind Over Minerals here.

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Featured image courtesy of cbenjasuwan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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