Nudge nudge…

Need a nudge?  This seems to be the buzzword of the moment.  The Conservatives view themselves as the British champions of this movement, and many other groups are embracing this as a method for change.  Although not a new concept (first analysed in 1950s it was widely investigated by social psychologists in the 70s), it has only recently risen to prominence due to its popularity amongst certain high profile politicians.  

Nudge influences change in a similar way to viral social change (small alterations leading to large changes), the difference being that instead of relying on individual acknowledged action, nudge works by embracing inertia and people’s increasingly hectic lives.  The premise assumes that in today’s world, people lead increasingly complex and busy lives, and therefore do not have the time or inclination to analyse their choices.  By framing the choice in a particular way (think of opting out of mailing lists, cancelling direct debits, giving a default option or offering incentives), people and organisations have the ability to choose for the consumer. 

This has various implications for the VCS.  It can be a useful tool for marketing and fundraising (for example by having a subtle annual increase in subscription or regular donation levels written in when people signup).  It also has vast potential for those organisations already providing services to people; people tend to stick with what they know, even if what they know is changing.  Whilst it may be challenging to begin this kind of movement, nudging has the potential to influence people without them even realising it.  Cynical?  Maybe.  Useful? Definitely. 

Last updated at 16:17 Wed 12/Aug/09.
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Megan 's picture


Third Sector Foresight

Richard Thaler, the author of Nudge, was in the UK doing the rounds of various organisations a couple of weeks ago. You can listen to the presentation he gave to Demos on nudging ourselves out of recession here, or download the presentation he gave to the government’s Strategy Unit here.

Karl's picture


Third Sector Foresight

Thaler’s book uses charitable giving as an example of the sort of nudge that policy makers could engage in. The two examples are very suited to the american tax system (eg a debit card that aggregates donations for your tax return), but its an interesting idea that people are inherently pro-social in their behaviour (to use a current phrase from economics that seems to be gaining some traction). I suppose the difficult question going forward (for NCVO’s funding commission, for example) is are those who dont give simply lacking in the number of prompts they need? If so, the possibly uncomfortable conclusion could be we need more fundraising ‘asks’?

Caroline's picture


Third Sector Foresight

That’s an interesting suggestion Karl, and one that face-to-face fundraising relies on; it’s a social guilt initiative (an unfriendly phrase, but seemingly apt). Maybe what we should ask instead is are we using the right asks or nudges, rather than are there enough? Advertising and marketing Agenices use a variety of ways to encourage people to buy particular products based largely on psychology and market research to attract different types of people. Maybe it is time the VCS followed their lead?

Kathryn's picture


Third Sector Foresight

Very interesting:

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