My experience in conservation has shown me that success is only possible when people’s behaviors are changed, in most cases in Seychelles in baby steps or subtle ways. Now a novel method to influence people is getting traction around the world. “Nudge” policies or inducements are designed to subtly influence behavior and are based on behavioral economics. The objective is simply to nudge people into acting in the government’s (or a company’s) interest by, for example, paying taxes on time, eating more healthily, giving up smoking or buying a product. I am convinced that the paradigm shift needed for establishing a truly sustainable society should rely on such principles.
Sci Dev Net reports on the use nudge economics in Africa and other parts of the developing world. From dancing pedestrian lights that encourage safer road crossing to painting babies’ faces on shop shutters to discourage robbery, implementing insights from the behavioral sciences for social benefit has become a global trend
"Nudge," according to Mark Whitehead and co-authors "is more global than you expect." Out of 196 nation-states, the researchers found, there are 136 in which these approaches to behavior change are used. And in 51 nations, including China, the United States, Australia, and countries in West and East Africa and in Western Europe, the behavioral approach is being directed by some nationwide centralized authority
The make or break for any nudge policy is how well it is designed says the Behavioral Insights Team (BIT). BIT, the world’s first government ‘nudge unit’, was set up in 2010 to change people’s behavior without the need for complex or radical legislation. It aims to create policies based on four main principles: making procedures easy, attractive, social and timely. The BIT was so successful that is now established as a public-private partnership. Seeing the BIT’s success, the U.S. federal government established its own behavioral unit within the executive branch.
Nudging is “very useful for developing countries”, says Simon Ruda of BIT. Knowledge of behavioral sciences can improve policy delivery without requiring exhaustive resources or huge expense, he says. “In the countries that we’ve worked in so far, we’ve managed to design interventions at zero marginal costs,” says Ruda. The only cost has been inexpensive procedures like administration, but the main investment has been the time devoted to trial these policies, he adds.
SciDevNet describes the work of David Perrott, cofounder of Cape Town-based behavior change firm Gravity Ideas who created ‘nudge’ incentives to raise sales of The Big Issue, a magazine which helps the poor and unemployed. Perrott says, policies based on behavior change can be effective and are worth exploring further rather than strictly adhering to traditional economic strategies based on financial incentives. “Understanding psychology should be a core focus within governments,” he says.
Nudges are not going to solve the global problems of ecosystem conservation, climate change and poverty alleviation. They can, however, contribute cost-effectively to the solutions says Paul Ferraro. Despite the rapid growth of behavioral nudge applications, they have largely been ignored by the environmental community. Environmental practitioners and policymakers focus on shoves rather than nudges - perhaps because of the scale of environmental problems or the sense of crisis around these issues. But scientists and practitioners should take a closer look at them, says Ferraro.
Dr. Nirmal Shah
CEO, Nature Seychelles