The announcement this week claimed that the unit has ‘signed up an extra 100,000 organ donors a year, persuaded 20% more people to consider switching energy provider, and doubled the number of army applicants.’ Plaudits were offered to
David Halpern, chief executive of the behavioural insights team, which has quadrupled in size since it was spun out of government in February 2014. Now a private company jointly owned by the Cabinet Office, Nesta and its employees, the “nudge unit” (nicknamed after the best-selling book by economist Richard H Thaler) permeates almost every area of government policy.
Unsurprisingly, the approach is likely to be seen by some as gentle persuasion; by others as a dangerous attempt at social engineering. To understand more, we need to go back to the publication of a best-selling book Nudge and how it attracted the interest of David Cameron.
[The following is based on my unpublished notes mostly over the period 2006-8. I have tried to acknowledge the sources, and welcome any suggestions of materials I may have left unattributed.]