Nudge nudge, think think – competing strategies for changing civic behaviour

Governments can no longer rely on the traditional behaviour change tools of regulatory and economic instruments to shape civic actions. But should they turn to choice architecture or deliberative participation as an alternative? Both are very in vogue, but can real shifts be achieved by appealing to perceptions of cost-benefit or by changing values?

In their fantastic discussion paper Nudge nudge, think think, Peter John, Graham Smith and Gerry Stoker walk us through the emergence of ‘Nudging’ and of ‘Deliberation’ as competing strategies available to policy makers seeking to change the behaviour of citizens. The authors discuss the strengths and weaknesses of both strategies and provide a handy comparative analysis, which is neatly summarised in this table:

Nudge Think
View of preferences Fixed Malleable


View of subjects Cognitive misers, users of shortcuts, prone to flawed sometimes befuddled thinking Reasonable, knowledge hungry and capable of collective reflection


Costs to the individual Low but repeated High but only intermittently


Unit of analysis Individual-focussed Group-focussed


Change process Cost-benefit led shift in choice environment Value led outline of new shared policy platform


Civic conception Increasing the attractiveness of positive-sum action


Addressing the general interest
Role of the state Customise messages, expert and teacher Create new institutional spaces to support citizen-led investigation, respond to citizens


In the coda, the authors explore how the two strategies can learn from each other and be brought together in a coherent manner. Although they accept that coherence is very difficult in practice because both strategies hold different understandings of human behaviour and theories of change, they both share a fundamental driving principle:

Governments accept they cannot rely on issuing commands or creating incentives: they must deal directly and engage with the citizen, whose participation helps to co-produce public outcomes.

Ultimately, as the authors conclude, to be a successful practitioner of nudge it you need to understand what makes deliberation work and to be an effective practitioner of think you need to understand the dynamics of nudge.

The paper discusses at length the design of Nudging and Deliberative processes, but does not spend enough time – to my mind – considering how they are communicated to the public, even though both strategies are highly reliant on effective marketing of intriguingly differing styles.

Room for improvement aside, this is a very accessible article containing learning and challenges for functions across government.

Another paper from the same ESRC-funded research programme that is also worth a read is Can the internet overcome the logic of collective action? which takes an experimental approach to investigating the impact of social pressure on political participation. This paper tests the hypothesis that social information provided by the internet makes it possible in large groups to exert social pressure that was previously only considered viable for smaller groups.

Who is accountable? Giving power away in a centralised political culture

We are all localists now.

So starts a new research report by IPPR exploring the political consensus around decentralisation and the barriers to achieving it in practice – Who’s accountable? The challenge of giving power away in a centralised political culture.

The researchers asked a representative sample who they regarded as accountable for the performance of public services. Across a range of services – health and policing, for example – no matter who is charge, the public placed responsibility firmly at the feet of government. However, in other cases – such as education and transport – accountability is more diffuse. Why?

The report considers a number of factors, but of particular importance seems to be good communication. When power is devolved, the lines of accountability must be made clear. The examples of devolution in Scotland and public transport make for interesting case studies in this respect.

However, in the report the authors write:

… ministers may be more inclined to give up powers where lines of accountability are clear and when they can be reassured that once they’ve let go, the public, the media and the oppoistion will accedpt that responsibility rests at the local level.

I do think the authors should have spent longer considering the important influence of party politics and media representation, alongside that of public attitudes and perceptions, in order to get the full picture.

Otherwise, it is an interesting and well set out piece of original research.

Spending less, yet spending more

Ofcom has released its 2008 Communications Market Review.

Haven’t had the chance to plough through it yet, but the main headline seems to be that Brits are spending more time communicating, yet spending less money to do so.

These reports are fantastic data sources, so it’s worth spending some time and bandwidth downloading it.

Interestingly Ofcom are running a trial of an ‘experimental, interactive version’ of the report’s key points. In essence, it’s a ‘social text’ allowing users to place comments against each point in the document (like the one that DIUS are running).

I think it’s a good idea but they seem a little too cautious about the whole thing.

Have a look at

Digital Dialogues 3

The report from the final phase of the Digital Dialogues project is now available for download and online at

Haven’t had time to fully digest it as yet. Very busy. Will collate my thoughts soon.

But congratulations to the Hansard Society, its eDemocracy team and the Democratic Engagement Branch at the Ministry of Justice on getting the report out and talked about.

World e-Parliament Report 2008 Published

They say:

“The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Inter-Parliamentary Union launched today the World e-Parliament Report 2008. The Report was prepared as part of the work of the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament.

The  World e-Parliament Report 2008 represents the first effort to establish a baseline of how parliaments are using, or planning to use ICT to help them carry out their representative, lawmaking and oversight responsibilities and to connect to their constituencies. It is also intended to advance a shared knowledge base among the parliaments of the world and to promote international debate on these matters.

The Report is based on the responses and comments provided by 105 assemblies from around the world to a survey on the use of ICT in parliament conducted between July and November 2007. It also draws on experiences exchanged during the World e-Parliament Conference 2007 and relevant publicly available information”.

I say:

“An excellent and very important piece of research. Significant, because it covers all conceivable applications of ICT by parliaments across the world. Well done to Gherardo, Jeffrey and Jane for putting it together”.

The Report is available at