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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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Chapter 2: Behavioural public problems

Assessing Behavioural Public Policy

Peter John


. Different sectors of activity vary in the extent to which individual behaviour is the cause. A judgement needs to be made about the balance and nature of the interrelationships, and where individual action depends on other policy levers being in place, rather than individuals having to bear the burden of achieving behaviour changes and delivering favourable policy outcomes on their own even if nudged by government. The tendency to assume that individual behaviour is the sole source of a public problem needs to be avoided when formulating behavioural public policy.

To begin, this chapter explores the sources of behavioural problems by examining the case of health, which provides a relatively straightforward example of behavioural problems, before looking at more complex examples, such as the environment.

Consider a basic activity such as the consumption of food. In past generations, people had limited supplies, in particular of protein, and had to make do with a mixed diet of some meat, but mainly vegetables and fruits. This diet was particularly observed in countries bordering the Mediterranean, where there were few sources of meat but a lot of natural produce, such as olive oil, and where vegetables were easy to grow. But it also was followed in countries in the north of Europe, where meat was only a bit more plentiful, at least for the large majority of the population. Most people were engaged in manual work. While these populations could be hit by disease and while even minor cuts...

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