Behavioural insights are relevant for all types of government interventions, from regulation, standardisation, subsidies and taxation to communication and information. In this sense, formulating policy using behavioural sciences knowledge is not a substitute for government interventions but an addition to this, which increases effectiveness by taking a broader view of the stimuli that influence behaviour.
Behavioural knowledge also offers opportunities for a less coercive way of directing, also known as nudging. Nudging is a popular scientific notion, often used in the media but defined in various terms. According to Thaler and Sunstein, a nudge could be understood as an intervention – based on behavioural sciences knowledge – that tries to change people's behaviour in a predictable way, without prohibiting options or steering them via economic incentives. Something only qualifies as a nudge if it is easy and cheap to avoid. The result of nudging can even be less government intervention if it replaces more far-reaching types of government action.
Nudging is only a partial aspect of what the behavioural sciences have to offer. Significant added value will be created if attention is systematically paid to the behavioural sciences perspective in policymaking. The policy process should have space for broad analyses that take the different behavioural elements into account and pay attention to the importance of advance empirical testing in order to find out whether a policy intervention will be effective.
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