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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 4: Nudge: All tools are informational now

Assessing Behavioural Public Policy

Peter John


Behavioural sciences and behavioural economics have entered the mainstream, at first within academic disciplines, but more profoundly within the world of media debate and commentary, and thence into the ambit of policy-makers. As will be documented in this chapter, this translation is an important development, a case study of how an academic programme can directly influence public policy. This phenomenon is not automatic. Indeed, the conventional wisdom is that academics find it hard to make a direct impact (e.g. Caplan 1975, 1979), for example through official evaluations. It is only when there are special conditions in place that academics can position themselves to affect policy choices (see John 2013b). Academics need to understand that it is mainly through the propagation of ideas that they can have a profound influence (Weiss 1977), which is gradual and long-lasting, and this is the realm in which advocates of behavioural economics so successfully operate.

The success of behavioural public policy derives in part from the practical agenda of behavioural economics itself, discussed in the last chapter, which is because of the realism that the introduction of psychology entailed. It helped the consideration of policy questions within academic research projects. The salience and impact of the new sets of ideas came from the synthesis of economics and psychology that modified rational actor models. As a result of the research programme that emerged, academics soon realised that they had discovered a powerful set of tools, which were capable of shifting...

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