Nudge or think: What works best for our society?

Sep 21, 2012

If approached in the right way, citizens are willing to change their behaviour and do more to help themselves and others, according to research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The project, carried out jointly at the universities of Manchester and Southampton, experimented with different interventions techniqueswhich encourage citizen participation and explored people's motivations for community involvement.

The researchers focused on comparing the effectiveness of 'nudge' techniques, where people are offered incentives to change their behaviour, and 'think' techniques, which takes a planned approach where people are given information, the opportunity to discuss and debate a subject, and then opportunity to act. Overall, they found that while the nudge interventions yielded better results, these were not always sustained in the long term.

Individuals responded well to nudge techniques such as doorstep canvassing, receiving feedback on their actions and to public recognition of their contribution. For example, in a experiment, there was a ten per cent increase in household recycling as a result of doorstep canvassing – a nudge technique. Unfortunately, this effect did not last and after three months the increase was just four per cent.

In another experiment people were asked to pledge used books to their local library. When the donors were told that their names would be made public, another nudge technique, donations went up by 22 per cent.

The 'think' technique experiments, though less successful, offered unexpected results. On-line debate forums where people were given information on a topic and the opportunity to discuss it resulted in modest changes in their policy positions. However, this approach failed to encourage participation among people that were not already politically engaged.

Another experiment, using both techniques, attempted to encourage students to add their names to the organ register. Dividing students into three groups the researchers found that the group given an information booklet on organ donation experienced a 34 per cent increase in registrations; the placebo group given information on swine flu recorded a 30 per cent increase in registrations; but the group given the information on organ donation and time to discuss it achieved a 15 per cent increase in registrations.

"The think experiments gave us more modest results, but it does not mean that Governments should dismiss this approach," argues Professor John. "Face-to-face techniques, more so than on-line, offer the potential for a richer and more complex platform for discussion and participation."

The researchers also identified that people with positive feelings about their neighbourhood, but with a distrust of government institutions, are more likely to get involved in their local area.

"The findings are very positive and supports the idea that a local approach using nudge and think techniques can lead to citizens getting involved in collective neighbourhood activities," states Professor John. "In order to sustain any actions the Government has to adopt a more experimental culture, using local authorities and groups as well. Based on our findings we suggest that a mixture of nudge and think techniques combined with opportunity for positive two-way feedback - government to citizen and citizen to government - is needed."

Explore further: When casualties increased, war coverage became more negative

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Big Society possible, find researchers

Jun 23, 2010

Research released today by academics at The University of Manchester and University of Southampton finds it is possible to get citizens to do more to create a 'Big Society'.

Can nudging help fight the obesity epidemic?

Apr 15, 2011

With obesity rates soaring, the government has been promoting nudge – a strategy that does not tell people how to live but encourages them to make healthy choices in respect of diet and exercise.

Ethicist urges tax credits to spur organ donation

Jun 03, 2010

A University of Montreal philosopher and ethicist is proposing that governments implement an organ donation tax credit to help increase the number of organs available for transplant.

Recommended for you

When rulers can't understand the ruled

13 hours ago

Johns Hopkins University political scientists wanted to know if America's unelected officials have enough in common with the people they govern to understand them.

When casualties increased, war coverage became more negative

17 hours ago

As the number of U.S. casualties rose in Afghanistan, reporters filed more stories about the conflict and those articles grew increasingly negative about both the war effort and the military, according to a Penn State researcher. ...

Poll surveys residents of two war-torn African nations

22 hours ago

Researchers fanned out in one of the most dangerous corners of the globe late last year, asking residents of a brutalized part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) their thoughts on violence, security, ...

Drunk driving women treated differently than men

22 hours ago

A study by Victoria University of Wellington's Health Services Research Centre explores attitudes and behaviours surrounding women and drink-driving, and the extent to which they have changed over the past decade.

User comments : 0