Article

NUDGE

NUDGE

I was asked to take a session on ways to improve governance for set of government employees. Normally, I would use the cognitive process or mental process to help me communicate on the topic.

Firstly, I want to distinguish clearly between both the words before jumping into the ring. I hope everyone knows what the Government is. However, what is the other term which is often used by the leaders to distinguish themselves from past practices and offering a new promise?

Governance comprises all of the processes of governing – whether undertaken by the government of a state, by a market, or by a network – over a social system (family, tribe, formal or informal organization, territory or across territories) and whether through the laws, norms, power or language of an organized society.[1]

 It relates to "the processes of interaction and decision-making among the actors involved in a collective problem that lead to the creation, reinforcement, or reproduction of social norms and institutions".[2]

The definition which is elaborate and encapsulated in every process is not helpful to me. After some time, I thought it is better to use the following definition.

Government is poly-centric with citizen playing a role albeit passively as a recipient of knowledge. However, governance is citizen centric, and it starts with the citizen and probably ends with the citizen who is empowered to take decisions that are healthy, create wealth, share wealth equitably keeping the sustainability of environment in focus.

Perhaps, this is a better starting point. It is a time that I should focus on one or two words that would help me to communicate. Decision is a keyword that I wanted to focus on. If we allow citizens to make decisions, would it be benefitable for them as well as for society? It is probably the question debated by Greek philosophers from Adam Smith to Immanuel Kant and still leave alone a perfect solution; even a good solution has not emerged among the philosophers.

I think I am digressing from the topic. Should we allow everyone to make their own decisions, or should society choose the alternatives to be chosen by the individuals?

Is it possible for governments across the world to insist on vaccination? Could the government stop selling alcohol and tobacco? Even dictators will not be able to do that. Then what would be the solution?

Nudge: To prod lightly, urge into action is the only solution suggested by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein. Thaler was awarded Nobel Prize for his work on the nudge. In an imaginary experiment at New York schools, one of the administrators was able to reduce unhealthy food consumption of children by 25%, by rearranging food so that the children are nudged to pick up healthy food. The organizer who is responsible for organizing the context is called as the choice architect. As a parent, physician, and administrator all of us play the role of choice architects.

Now, there might be questions from the participants

  1. How to help people to get vaccinated? Some may even climb trees to avoid vaccination.
  2. How to help students to have less distraction while studying through e-learning?
  3. How to make children to take right career decisions?
  4. How to convince people not to consume alcohol?

Why the stairways in colleges are large and have smaller steps?

It is to provide more interaction and walking space for students and teachers. The architectural design of the building is not just a passive exercise. It is an active process to identify the needs and satisfy the needs of the people who are going to breathe life into the building. Exactly that is what is being done by the decision architect to breathe life into the decision-making process rather than just being optimal utilization of resources.

Now, I want to explain the philosophy about this thinking called Libertarian Paternalism.

A policy is paternalistic if it tries to influence choices in a way that would make choosers better off, as judged by themselves. Literature reviews indicate that individuals make bad decisions if there is no complete information. In a world filled with the post-truth phenomenon, people are likely to make the worst decisions. It is better to nudge them to choose the right choices when the choices are mired by disinformation.

Western market philosophers say maximize choices. You will make better. But it will add a lot of complexity. At this point, I thought I should not talk too much about philosophy as I may lose the audience. Let me talk about some examples of nudges in action.

Let me go through the process of thinking. How do we think?

There are two systems of thinking. Automatic system and reflective system. As we experience the world more and more, we try to use automatic system of response.

I would discuss about the differences between both the systems of thinking and neurobiology in later postings. I wish It is time to know about cognitive biases. Cognitive biases are systematic patterns of deviation from norm what is expected for a normal judgment. As humans we use heuristics or decision processing rules, while making decisions. Biases are prejudicial or been trying to make decisions that suits our thinking or to be precise wishful thinking. One of the most important examples is Loss aversion bias it means the pain of losing is less preferred than pleasure of earning. The pain of losing one hundred rupees is far higher than gaining one hundred rupees. This concept of nudge was widely accepted in the present-day world and is used for different intervention purposes.

About the Author

Dr. K. Prabhakar is a doctorate in social forecasting and Oxford Scholar in Multidimensional Poverty. A qualitative researcher teaching medical applications in mental health and health care.