Obama’s nudging efforts are so far only about prodding

The White House’s Social and Behavioral Science Team (SBST), a cross-agency effort to bring behavioral science research into the policy making process, has just published its first annual report, which covers just 15 proof-of-concept projects in this first year.

Politico’s assistant editor Danny Vinik reviewed the report on using behavioral science to shape people’s behavior (in an article entitled “Obama’s effort to ‘nudge’ America“) and writes that in fact it was more about prodding than nudging:

” The team’s projects were definitely a form of prodding—giving people little pokes to improve their behavior in some way. But the more muscular form of “nudge” involves what experts call changing the “choice architecture”—automatically enrolling employees in an optional 401(k), for instance, or making organ donors opt out.

That’s largely not what the government was trying here.”

He concludes:

“Whatever the reason, the result is that these projects, while valuable, are less informative than they could be. The SBST team’s report showed that 13 of its projects worked; one didn’t; and one was hard to tell. That’s a good result for a small and inexpensive office. But when it comes to whether behavioral economics could offer a new tool to push Americans toward different choices in big-ticket areas like healthcare—or whether Americans would actually want that—the evidence is still out.”