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Professor of Geography at Aberystwyth University

Globalising Nudge

[Photograph Source: 123RF]

We tend to assume that nudge, and the broader set of behaviour changing policies it is associated with, is a predominantly Western phenomena. The countries where we think the behavioural sciences have had the greatest impact on public policy constitute a familiar list: the UK, France, the USA, Australia, Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands. When we think about the global spread of nudge, it tends to be assumed that its ideas and practices have been gradually radiating out from these centres of policy innovation to other parts of the world where they have been keenly embraced.

We have recently completed a global scoping study of the rising impacts of the behavioural sciences on public policy design and execution. The early results of this survey go against many of the things we assume about the globalization of nudge. Here are some of the headline findings:

1. Nudge is more global than you think. According to our survey, we estimate that nudge-type policies are much more prevalent than you might think. The following 41 countries have central state lead policy initiatives that have been influenced by the new behavioural sciences: Australia, Austria Barbados, Belgium, Benin, Botswana, Canada, Hong Kong, Denmark, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Ghana, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Jordan, Latvia, Lesotho, Montenegro, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Portugal, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Spain, Swaziland, UK, USA, Zambia.

In addition, we found evidence of public initiatives that had been influenced by the new behavioural sciences (but were not centrally orchestrated) in a total of 128 countries (out of a total of 227 possible states).

2. Arguably the most significant way in which the new behavioural sciences are shaping public policy internationally is in relation to disease prevention initiatives in Less Economically Developed Countries. Although nudge-type policies are generally associated with areas of personal finance, environmental protection and healthy living, in LEDCs these policies are proving vital in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS, diarrhoea, and Malaria. It is also important to note that in the fight against HIV/AIDS in LEDCs, it is possible to discern the deployment of nudge-type policies long before they became popular in the West.

3. The global spread of nudge policies is being facilitated by a series of influential international organizations, corporations and NGOs. Our study reveals that the following organizations are actively encouraging nudge-type policies: UNESCO, Samoa Air, United Nations Development Programme, Unilever, World Diabetes Foundation, Hiam Health, International Labour Office, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, John Lewis, Tools of Change (Canada), Behaviour Works (Australia), Euro Health Group, National Social Marketing Centre (UK), Sustainable Brands, Innovations Lab (Kosovo), Centre for Communications Programmes, Change Hub, Change Labs, Communication Initiative Network, Canyon Ranch Institute, OECD, A Little Bit of Hope, Sanitation and Water For All Partnership, University Research Co, BEHAVE, SNV, Hygiene Central, UNICEF, International Medical Core, C-Change, Global Fund, Danish Nudging Network (I Nudge You), World Bank, Japanese Social Development Fund, USAID, Manoff Group, URC, Deutche Bank, Population Services International (PSI), Carribean HIV/AIDS Alliance, Health Ministry (Indonesia), Japanese Ministry of the Environment, USAID, AusAID, Red Cross, United Nations Population Fund, Greenudge (Norway), PATH Foundation, Carribean HIV/AIDS Alliance, Mindlab

While we acknowledge that this study is not a definitive list of either the countries where you can find nudge-type policies, or the types of organisations that are promoting these policies, it does provide a helpful baseline from which to build future research.

The full implications of this study, and an explanation of its methodology, will be developed in the publication Nudging All Over the World: Assessing the Impacts of the Behavioural Sciences on Public Policy, which we hope to publish in December 2013.

2 Comments on “Globalising Nudge”

  1. Keeley March 24, 2014 at 10:09 am #

    Howdy! This is my first comment here so I just
    wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I genuinely enjoy reading
    your blog posts. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same topics?
    Thanks a ton!

  2. Mark J Whitehead March 25, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

    Thanks for your kind words Keeley – I am glad you enjoy the blog. You could also try the “nudge blog” and the “inudgeyou” platform. Please feel free to comment on our posts as and when you can.

    best wishes


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