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Nudge unit: civil servants should turn behavioural insights on themselves

Policy, government, methods, nudge, principles

The government’s behavioural insights team, known as the nudge unit, is at the forefront of global efforts to apply lessons from the behavioural sciences to public policy. What the insights show is that when governments better understand the way citizens think, the more effective they can be when encouraging us to act in the public interest.

For instance, because few of us feel comfortable deviating from what is considered normal, tax repayment rates have been shown to improve when people are told the majority of their neighbours have already paid. Likewise, because people generally choose the path of least resistance, pension coverage increases when workers are automatically enrolled in a scheme and given the choice to opt out. Such small prompts or changes in the way options are presented to people can have a large-scale impact.

In a new twist on this approach, the Mowat centre at the University of Toronto has taken the lens of behavioural insight and turned it inward – on the public service itself. In a new report, we argue that behavioural insights represent an effective but overlooked policy tool in driving public sector reform.

Governments around the world are grappling with ambitious transformation agendas. Against a backdrop of high-profile austerity measures, governments are making sweeping changes to back office operations and frontline service delivery.

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