Nudging Us – In the wrong direction!

Nudge theory is currently in the news and the next few posts examine aspects of it that are relevant to infrastructure decision making.  Have you had any experience with ‘nudging’?  What are your thoughts on the subject?

Back in the day!

In 2010 Richard Thaler (the 2017 Nobel Economics Prize winner) and his co-author, Cass Sunstein, wrote “Nudge Theory”.  The idea behind nudge theory is that the brain is lazy, or rather that we have so many decisions to make every day, that where there is an easy way out, we are likely to take it. Governments around the world have established ‘nudge’ units to figure out how to encourage (yet not force) people to take decisions that are in their, or the community, interest.  The most popular of the approaches is to make the beneficial decision the ‘default’ option.  For example, making organ donation the default standard but allowing people to opt out, generates significantly highly numbers of organ donors than where the default is out, but people are allowed to ‘opt in’.  This relies on us defaulting to the ‘easy option’, the one that requires the least effort, the least thought.

When it comes to infrastructure decision making, this means that we are more likely to choose options with which we are familiar, rather than ones that require effort, exploration, thought, and time.  In other words, although we know that the world is rapidly and radically changing with technology providing far more options than we have had in the past, we will (being human) have a tendency to default to the infrastructure that we have built in the past.  This means that we have an inbuilt tendency to construct infrastructure better suited to the 20th, rather than the 21st, century.

Question:   How can we use nudge theory to work in our favour, rather than against?

One Thought on “Nudging Us – In the wrong direction!

  1. Nudge theory is of course part of Behavioural Economics.

    In the first 3 minutes of this TED video on YouTube, Rory Sutherland gives a somewhat lighthearted application of behavioural economics to infrastructure: He critiques a 6 billion Pound proposal for a marginal improvement in the channel train.

    Or search on YouTube for Life lessons from an ad man, by Rory Sutherland.

    (The entire video is worth watching: he discusses nudge principle topics such as impulse saving. Most of it is not specifically infrastructure-related. But it is very good in its discussion of altering or restoring the perception of value when we are running out of conventional options.)

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