Inside the Nudge Unit was published this week by WHAllen. I wanted to email out partly to say thanks to the many people who have contributed to the success of the team and the wider application of behavioural science and experimentation to policy. I also wanted to give you the headlines.in the unlikely chance you don’t get to read the whole thing…
The point of the book is be open about the application of behavioural approaches; to to help others (for good!); and to discuss the potential and limits of the approach. The book provides a lot more space to explore subtleties and breadth than can be done in a standard press release of a given result. It’s divided into four sections.
The first section provides a brief summary of the research literature from where behavioural understanding has grown, and offers a short history of BIT itself.
The second part explores a wide range of examples showing how seemingly small ‘nuts and bolts’ changes can make a dramatic difference to what people’s behaviour. This ranges from small changes in letters and texts to encourage the payment of bills on time, to how tiny extra ‘frictions’ can reduce suicides or cut crime. The section offers a simple primer on behavioural insights, built around the Behavioural Insight Team’s ‘EAST’ framework – Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely.
The third section explores more advanced applications of behavioural insights to policy, including transparency, market design, well-being and experimental methods. This ranges from how regulators can use behavioural insights to reshape and improve market functioning, such as the recent addition of QR codes on bills to make it easier to switch energy suppliers, to more subtle issues such as how human decision-making affects our well-being and what governments might do about it. This section also explores other closely related areas of innovation in government, and especially the rise in experimental methods in policy and professional practice, embodied in the ‘What Works’ centres and movement.
In the final section, there is discussion of some of the critiques of behavioural and experimental approaches and how governments might respond. This includes the key question of who ‘nudges the nudgers?’ My own view is that as governments, businesses and public servants use behavioural and experimental approaches ever more widely, most will need to ‘up their game’ around how the public gets to steer when, where and how these approaches are used, especially in relation to lifestyle choices. The last chapter also explores some of the most interesting new threads in the behavioural literature, including how behavioural scientists are starting to think about increasing social mobility and opportunity, or how to reduce extremism and group conflict.
The book, and work of the team, owes thanks to many people, as reflected in the long list of acknowledgements, including to our sister units and colleagues across UK government. If you do get a chance to look at it, I hope you find it useful, and if not – well at least you now know enough to pretend that you have…
PS. Looking forward to seeing many of you at next week’s Behavioural Exchange conference (BX2015), hosted in London this year, with 750 attendees from more than 20 countries! If you missed it, the USA are hosting next year…