When Behavioral Science Meets Public Policy

From: RegBlog | Penn Program on Regulation

As evidenced by the Behavioral Insights Team launched by the UK government as well as the creation of a White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, so-called nudges have caught fire with policymakers around the globe. Popularized by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s recent best-selling book, the nudge idea has been praised as a low-cost, choice-preserving innovation – while criticized as too paternalistic and full of unintended consequences in practice.


A different approach would entail the creation of a wholly new, independent institution akin to the UK’s Behavioral Insights Team – or so-called Nudge Unit. The strength of this model draws from a specialized team of experts specifically dedicated to the work of nudging; however, its weakness also stems from its separateness. It might function as a kind of outsider, with little ability to initiate real reform. Sunstein emphasizes that the UK’s Nudge Unit has been successful precisely because it has enjoyed high-level support and access from Cabinet members and departments.

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