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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 9: Assessing behavioural public policy

Assessing Behavioural Public Policy

Peter John


The aim of this chapter is to come to an overall assessment about the potential for nudges. What is the full range of their application and the likelihood of their continuing success? The idea is to use the argument and evidence presented so far in this book to come to an appreciation about the current and future scope of nudging, which could be just using it in a minimal way, mainly about improving communications and transactions, or extending right up to the maximum possible use. The latter position is close to the argument of Chapter 8 with its advocacy of a decentralised nudge plus. If the intellectual device of a continuum of possible nudges is accepted, ranging between minimal and maximal, then the question is where to place preferences for actual policies and practices on it. Readers, given the extent to which they agree or disagree with the arguments made in previous chapters, may wish to place themselves on this scale and so answer the question of the book – How far to nudge? – themselves. Overall, there is a need to stand back and take on board the criticisms of nudge, as well as fully respond to the ethical challenges, paying attention to the debate about limitations and constraints introduced in Chapters 6 and 7. These cautionary considerations should not be lost in the enthusiasm for next-generation interventions.

In deciding how far to nudge, one option need not have serious consideration, which is the case...

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