What Is It Like to Work in a Nudge Unit?

16 May

This post is based on a question that was posed to me on Quora, What does it look like to work at the Behavioural Insights Team, or any other Nudge Unit?

If you are interested in nudging within the government context, I would check out the book by David Halpern, Inside the Nudge Unit, which essentially addresses the genesis of the Behavioral Insights Team in the UK and its approach to execution, which includes addressing problems one nudge at a time.

For some additional flavor on the US side and how nudging has affected policy, with some of those ideas being implemented in the White House Behavioral Sciences Team, check out Cass Sunstein’s book, Simpler. I am not sure how that team is currently doing given the Trump administration and policies to dismantle organizations from both the outside and within, but it is a good book. Although it’s been some time since I read that book, I recall a distinct a vibe around calculating return on investment as a key process intertwined with implementing nudges within government.

If you are looking for information on implementing nudge units within companies, I published a book in 2015, Inside Nudging: Implementing Behavioral Science Initiatives. Like the books previously mentioned, I typically have found nudge units to be very project-focused, and they often include elements of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) or experimental work. I have also found that nudge units tend to work best when they deliberately address elements and processes around Goals, Research, Innovation, and Testing. I call this Behavioral GRIT (essentially organizational fortitude to implement behavioral science). I propose that how companies implement behavioral science initiatives should be based around a vision implemented through a predominant organizational model (like an innovation center or consulting office) and then adding implementation elements (like an advisory board or a chief behavioral scientist). I’ve made an appendix to my book available here, which details predominant organization models and implementation elements to jump-start one’s thinking: http://steveshuconsulting.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Inside-Nudging-Appendix-A-August-27-2015-v7.pdf. Leafing through that appendix might also give you some indirect ideas about what it might be like to work in a commercial nudge unit (recognizing that these vary a lot).

Finally, I also put together a short video introducing behavioral science initiatives (again related to commercial settings), and the video might also provide some additional color:

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