Nudges, Networks And Large-Scale Change

Following on from the book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, a group has been set up in the UK Cabinet Office to see how ‘nudge’ ideas can be used to better deliver government policy:

The team will include civil servants and external advisers including Paul Dolan and Richard Thaler, authors of the influential book Nudge, and will be led by  David Halpern, director of research at the Institute for Government.

It is being supported by a cross-government steering group, which includes David Cameron’s director of strategy Steve Hilton, and is chaired by cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell.

More info on Nudge here and here.

In a recent counter view, Paul Omerod argues that it’s far more important to take into account networks:

Using modern network modelling, the essay:

  • Identifies particular structures of networks that determine how fast and broad behaviour change spreads. This includes ‘scale-free’ networks where changing the behaviour of thousands requires identifying key ‘hubs’ of influence.
  • Shows how many policy evaluations – because they ignore networks – often deliver misleading results. This can result in public investment in the wrong interventions or to policies being abandoned before contagion effects take place.
  • Network effects dwarf nudge policies. However, they make policymaking much more complex and unpredictable but with huge potential gains.

The latter essay is published under the RSA:

For over 250 years the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has been a cradle of enlightenment thinking and a force for social progress.  Our approach is multi-disciplinary, politically independent and combines cutting edge research and policy development with practical action.

More on these approaches later.

Explanation of picture here, which incidentally provides an example of nudging and networking going hand in hand!


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