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Matthew Taylor published a post on his blog on Friday, which was inspired by this paper [pdf] (definitely worth a read) from the Civic Behaviour project that Manchester and Southampton Universities are collaborating on.

Matthew Taylor published a post on his blog on Friday, which was inspired by this paper [pdf] (definitely worth a read) from the Civic Behaviour project that Manchester and Southampton Universities are collaborating on.

The paper compares two behaviour change strategies of use in public policy; Nudge (ie. behavioural economics), and a more deliberative approach "think" and first takes the view that "The two strategies do not seem to be to be compatible – at first at least", but concludes "No government should want to get rid of either tool".

I think the concluding view is right - both techniques are complementary. Nudging can be useful when the harmful behaviour that we're addressing is habitual (say throwing all your waste into the bin that goes to land-fill), but more deliberative approaches are probably necessary to reduce other harmful behaviours (say physical assaults, to give an extreme example).

One of the difficulties I have with nudging is that it never seems to address the root of a problem. You may be able to make use of clever psychology to direct someone's behaviour, but that hardly seems to respect people. In other words, nudging may infantilise, which isn't going to develop the sort of citizens of the future that the RSA is keen to see.

My colleague Matt Grist has also written a post on this subject (I'm just jumping on the bandwagon with this one) and makes a good point about what he calls the naivety of the "think" approach. Matt's view is that expecting people to think too much is unrealistic - we don't involve our cognitive processes in some behaviour for good reason - we'd become quickly overloaded. I guess that while this is true, it's not an argument to write off deliberation, it's an argument to pick the issues on which we want to encourage deliberation. I dont think it's terribly important if people don't recycle, but I do think it's important that people don't waste energy.

The difference between the approaches Nudge and "think" also makes me think of this post from Dan Lockton on different approaches to design for behaviour change. Perhaps design that motivates behaviour is closer to Nudge, and design that enables behaviours (e.g. by providing certain information) is closer to "think"?

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