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How Far to Nudge?

Assessing Behavioural Public Policy

Peter John

This book addresses the wave of innovation and reforms that has been called the nudge or behavioural public policy agenda, which has emerged in many countries since the mid-2000s. Nudge involves developing behavioural insights to solve complex policy problems, such as unemployment, obesity and the environment, as well as improving the delivery of policies by reforming standard operating procedures. It reviews the changes that have taken place, in particular the greater use of randomised evaluations, and discusses how far nudge can be used more generally in the policy process. The book argues that nudge has a radical future if it develops a more bottom up approach involving greater feedback and more engagement with citizens.
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Assessing Behavioural Public Policy

Peter John

I have many people to thank. The first is Alex Pettifer at Edward Elgar. Like a good publisher, he knows the value of the long game. Alex and I had been meeting many times, long before the idea for the book was hatched. Once I had the project in mind, he helped me develop it, and I am very pleased this book is coming out under Edward Elgar’s imprint. I am also very grateful to others at the press for helping me through the preparation of the manuscript, in particular Helen Moss and Kaitlin Gray.

I am in debt to many academic colleagues with whom I have developed behavioural interventions, in particular my co-researchers on the Rediscovering the Civic project – Sarah Cotterill, Hanhua Liu, Alice Moseley, Hisako Nomara, Liz Richardson, Graham Smith, Gerry Stoker, and Corinne Wales – for which we developed tests of both nudge and think (John et al. 2011). I also thank my friend Helen Margetts, with whom I have worked on nudge-like interventions in the online sphere. In the midst of writing our book on political turbulence (Margetts et al. 2016), I pitched her the idea of How Far to Nudge?, and she encouraged me to do it.

I am particularly grateful to members of the Behavioural Insights Team who welcomed me as a friend and advisor, especially in the early days. My special thanks go to David Halpern, Laura Haynes, Michael Sanders, and Owain Service. I am also grateful to my sister Ros who, as a professor of developmental epigenetics, advised me on the discussion of the role of epigenetics in affecting human behaviour in Chapter 2.

I appreciate the countless people with whom I have talked about behavioural interventions. Because of the trendiness of the topic, I have been invited to give many presentations to governments, third sector bodies, and academic gatherings. Of course, talking about one’s ideas is the same as developing them and helping them take shape. These audience members listened patiently to my talks and asked very good questions at the end. I also presented ideas about behavioural public policy to the students who took my Making Policy Work course module, based on the eponymous book (John 2011), which I taught when I was in the School of Public Policy, University College London. Anyone reading the book will find out that I move inexorably from the tools of government to behaviour change, so the students knew instantly what direction I was taking them in. I claimed that I was planting favourable ideas about nudge and randomised controlled trials into the minds of the students, but in truth they influenced me just as much.

I also thank the School of Governance at the University of Utrecht, which invited me to spend a week there in November 2016, where I had quiet space to work, and I gave a talk based on the book’s ideas. I thank Thomas Schillemans, who invited me, as well as Lars Tummers and Stephan Grimmelikhuijsen, who all made me feel very welcome. In the middle of the week, I discussed the ideas in the book over a delightful dinner with Joel Anderson, and he inspired me to develop them further.

I am very grateful to Oliver James, who reviewed the manuscript for the publisher critically and sympathetically. I thank the research students who work with me on behaviour change policies: Manu Savani, Annabelle Wittels, Eliza Kozman, and Patrick Taylor. We convened a mini-seminar on my book on 20 March 2017, which was great fun as well as offering me excellent feedback. Joel helped me once again with the chapter on ethics (Chapter 7). Sarah Birch, Oliver Hauser, Sebastian Jilke, and Gerry Stoker also made very useful comments on the manuscript after its first draft. Needless to say, I have probably made many mistakes by not listening enough to the great advice I have received.