Behavioural Public Policy

Behavioural Public Policy

Since the publication of Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, the government has been keen to use evidence from behavioural economics to influence public policy in areas such as health, the environment and education; in 2011 David Cameron even introduced a so-called ‘Nudge Unit’ into Number 10. Here it is questioned whether behavioural insight is a passing trend, whether the state has any business trying to influence individual behaviour, and how ‘nudging’ could produce tangible benefits in health, the environment, education and other areas.

The Behavioural Insights Team’s report on energy use is good first step, but there are still concerns about compensating behaviours, experimental design and the quality of evidence.

Paul Dolan reviews the new report from the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insights team on Behaviour Change and Energy use, and is surprised that it fails to mention the possibility that interventions to change energy use may be offset by behaviour changes elsewhere. He also emphasises the importance of getting the experimental design correct in future studies, and has some concerns […]

Public and private decision makers should place due attention to the likelihood that high risk high reward options will fail.

The old saying goes, “no risk, no reward”. But what about initiatives that have a high risk factor and promise a high level of reward, such as large government projects like the NHS National Programme for IT? Adam Oliver argues that governments can often ‘anchor’ too heavily on projects that promise the earth, but might potentially cost it as well.

New policy experiments using nudges have the potential to make a significant contribution to energy conservation

Adam Oliver comments on the UK Government’s recently published report on ‘Behaviour Change and Energy Use’, and finds that while some of the proposed interventions are not strictly ‘behavioural economics’, they may provide people with some incentives to reduce the amount of energy they use.

A move to presumed consent would increase the number of organ donors and their willingness to donate

According to NHS Blood and Transplant, there are over 10,000 people in the UK that are in need of an organ transplant, with many often waiting for years for an organ to become available. Looking at organ donation rates across 22 countries, Joan Costa Font and Caroline Rudisill have found that those countries that have ‘opt-out’ legislation have higher rates […]

Nudge is no magic fix. The potential consequences of behavioural interventions need to be weighed carefully based on an understanding of underlying behavioural processes

Last week the Lords Science and Technology Committee published their report on how the government uses behavioural change interventions. In light of this report Sander van der Linden questions whether the ‘science’ of nudging, which is often based on social-psychological theories, will change the population’s behaviour. He argues that more weight should be given to a wider range of factors, […]

The evidence shows that nudge effects disappear when incentives are short term; ‘deposit contracts’ may provide the answer to changing people’s behaviour

Effective policies that aim to nudge people to alter their behaviour to become more healthy have been increasingly under the spotlight. Taking the example of stopping smoking, Adam Oliver argues that conventional nudge initiatives are rarely successful in the long term. Instead, he argues, policy makers should take a closer look at ‘deposit contracts’, which would give people a real […]

Street level crime maps may be an example of a nudge in the wrong direction if they lead to fewer crimes being reported

Earlier this year, the government unveiled online crime maps, which enabled local residents to track crime right down to their street level. Steve Gibbons is not surprised that this policy may have been a nudge in the wrong direction; a recent survey indicates that residents may actually be not be reporting local crimes for fear of driving down house prices.

It’s time to change the default for organ donation – people should have to opt out

Continuing British Politics and Policy’s theme of behavioural public policy, Adam Oliver finds that a simple change of the default position, to an ‘opt out’, rather than ‘opt in’ system, may lead to far more lives being saved. The substantial effect that the default position can have on people’s choices is a classic finding of behavioural economics, and this finding […]