Britain’s Ministry of Nudges..

A brilliant column in NYT by Katrin Benhold on UK’s behavioral insights team. She points to anecdotes which led to formation of the team, the key questions it is asking and some recent successes.

I did not know unemployed people being nudged to write about their jobless experiences get a job faster:

A 24-year-old psychologist working for the British government, Mr. Gyani was supposed to come up with new ways to help people find work. He was intrigued by an obscure 1994 studythat tracked a group of unemployed engineers in Texas. One group of engineers, who wrote about how it felt to lose their jobs, were twice as likely to find work as the ones who didn’t. Mr. Gyani took the study to a job center in Essex, northeast of London, where he was assigned for several months. Sure, it seemed crazy, but would it hurt to give it a shot? Hayley Carney, one of the center’s managers, was willing to try.

Ms. Carney walked up to a man slumped in a plastic chair in the waiting area as Mr. Gyani watched from across the room. The man — 28, recently separated and unemployed for most of his adult life — was “our most difficult case,” Ms. Carney said later.

“How would you like to write about your feelings” about being out of a job? she asked the man. Write for 20 minutes. Once a week. Whatever pops into your head.

An awkward silence followed. Maybe this was a bad idea, Mr. Gyani remembers thinking.

But then the man shrugged. Why not? And so, every week, after seeing a job adviser, he would stay and write. He wrote about applying for dozens of jobs and rarely hearing back, about not having anything to get up for in the morning, about his wife who had left him. He would reread what he had written the week before, and then write again.

Over several weeks, his words became less jumbled. He started to gain confidence, and his job adviser noticed the change. Before the month was out, he got a full-time job in construction — his first.

Superb stuff….

It started from America, showed some policy success in UK and now being looked upon in America:

Uptake of nudging can be slow. In the United States, President Obama appointed Mr. Sunstein as head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in 2008. Mr. Sunstein’s job was to oversee new regulations, make older ones smarter and scrap those that didn’t work well. Among the successes, as outlined in his latest book, “Simpler,” were simplified mortgages, fuel-economy labels for cars and calorie counts on menus in chain restaurants.

Now experiments seem ready to become part of American policy-making as well. Maya Shankar, a senior policy adviser at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, has been building a new social and behavioral science team inspired in part, she said, by the savings achieved in Britain. Her team wants to use such “evidence-based policy-making,” she said, so that “government services are efficient, effective, and serve the needs of the American people.”

Convinced that there is a wider market for such programs, Mr. Cameron is spinning off the nudge unit into an entity free to advise companies and other governments on social projects. Its main clients will remain the Cabinet Office, which has offered a five-year contract, and other British government departments.  A nonprofit research institution is favored to become the team’s partner.

Nudging will never replace traditional public policy, said Mr. Halpern, the nudge unit’s director. Paraphrasing Oliver Letwin, a cabinet minister, he said: “No one is proposing removing the law against murder and replacing it with a nudge.”

But behavioral insights can improve many policies he said. “It’s when this is generalized that we could be talking about billions,” he said.

Hmmm… Need to keep updated over the policy findings of BI team via their blog.


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