Beyond Nudge: The latest thinking in behavioral insights

Bibi Groot, our Director and Head of Educational Policy, joined the 2019 WINK conference, in the Netherlands, to hear about the latest thinking in behavioral insights. Inspired by the 20+ presentations by researchers and policy-makers, Bibi summarizes the key takeaways.

Behavioral science as a core capacity in public institutions. Many public institutions in the Netherlands now have dedicated behavioral science experts in-house, or work with expert consultancies or universities. We met officials from Amsterdam Municipality, the Netherlands Scientific Council, Behavioral Insights Group Rotterdam, the Flemish Behavioural Insights team and the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), to name but a few. It was heartening to see that these institutions actively seek to incorporate a thorough understanding of human behavior into their thinking and policy.

Focus on structural issues, even if they are tough to address. Professor Eldar Shafir, who delivered the first keynote speech, reminded us that we need to focus our collective efforts on solving complex societal issues, and not just focus on the ones that are easy to nudge. So instead of making walking stairs more fun to get people to exercise more, or the Schiphol Airport fly in the urinal, Professor Shafir urged us to focus more on the most disadvantaged groups in society. Professor Shafir is well-known for his ground-breaking work on scarcity theory, showing that ‘having too little’ be it time or money, creates a vicious cycle. He inspired us to think about ways to help people stuck in poverty take the reign over their lives. And that means dedicating more effort to boosting good financial-decision making, breaking the cycle of debt, or helping people overcome hurdles to finding quality employment. We’ve started doing work in this area, and would love to connect with others who are interested in these topics.

Nudging and beyond. The name of the conference was apt. We learnt about many innovative nudges, including getting people to exercise more at work (André Mamede Braga, BIG Rotterdam), boosting regulatory officials’ sense of accountability (Professor Thomas Schilleman, Utrecht University), and improving household energy savings through smart meters (Mirthe Boomsma, Tilburg University). There was also plenty of interest in the big question: what next? Where should we focus our efforts to improve individuals’ and societal well-being? What is the role of governments? And how can we ensure our nudges are transparent and acceptable to those who are nudged?

Many governments are nudging. In a panel discussion with government representatives from the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the European Commission, we learnt that 13 EU countries are already using behavioral science to help design and deliver better national and local policies. Excitingly, Portugal is one of them: LabX, part of the Agência para a Modernização Administrativa (AMA) is leading the way into the brave new world of behavioral science. We are proud to have already started working with LabX, and look forward to seeing new developments within Portugal and abroad