The government’s little “nudges”

I am the first to admit that politics is not one of my specialist topics. Being asked to complete and send yet another form/census/tax return, is one of those requests that makes it speedily to the dark and unused part of my memory, where they lie forgotten. It was therefore with interest that I read about the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), and how their efforts to tweak government-public communications are starting to pay off. BIT have come up with some clever ways to get us lazy and forgetful Brits to fill in those forms, and have achieved this through understanding that very British mindset. They recommend three key changes, or as they describe “nudges”- small behavioural interventions that should be easy to enact.

    1) The power of early behavioural commitment

BIT established that getting people to sign a declaration of truth at the beginning of a form, as opposed to the end, makes them more honest in their subsequent answers. This is because people generally like to conform and signing off your honesty at the beginning makes people feel more committed to telling the truth later on. Furthermore, apparently people associate signing a form at the top with signing a legal declaration, which makes the whole thing seem a lot more serious.

    2) The importance of being in the the majority

Despite all attempts to be recognised as “individuals” and “unique”, most of us don’t like to stand out from the crowd (see for example- facebook or those ‘trending topics’ on Twitter). As a result, it is unsurprising that the government is capitalising on this fear of being different, as their latest census suggests. Letters sent chasing late census returns told households they were “one of the last” in their area to fill in the form – hinting at both their failure to be good citizens and highlighting the fact that they were in the minority. Furthermore, the government is also playing with the idea of rewarding people for being part of this ‘social norm’ by potentially offering incentives to those who pay their tax by the due date- cash prizes for tax, I can smell the irony.

    3) Change the default setting

Following on the heels of the ‘opt-in’ or ‘opt-out’ debate concerning organ donation, the government has responded with a new scheme that keeps an opt-in requirement but forces people to make a choice about organ donation. Wannabe drivers applying for a driving licence are now required to register in or out for organ donation before they can complete the application- in the process adding another million registrants willing to donate organs per year. This is good news for 1,000 people a year who die each year in the UK waiting for organs. The changes also respond to the current shocking statistic and discrepancy that while nine out of 10 people in the UK have expressed their support for organ donation, only 29% of people in the UK have actually registered as organ donors.

For further details on the government’s “nudges”, I suggest, empower and nudge you to watch this summary video by Baroness Neuberger, Chair of the Committee herself-


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