Nudge: The Implementation of a social innovation

July 23, 2015

NudgeThe UK Government’s Behavioural Insights team has been reported as implementing a highly successful social innovation through influencing or ‘nudging’ personal decisions

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[The following is based on my unpublished notes mostly over the period 2006-8.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.]

Read the rest of this entry »


Putin’s presidential victory suggests a modification to “leaders we deserve” theory

March 5, 2012

Vladimir Putin, as expected, wins a substantial victory in Russia’s presidential elections. The process raises questions about the proposition that social systems get “the leaders we deserve”

When Leaders we deserve blogs began, nearly 800 posts ago, commentators were quick to point out the implications of its title. Who are the “we”? What have “we” done to “deserve” leaders?

The questions were acknowledged as relevant and in need of deeper examination. It would be accurate to say that such an examination has been more implicit than explicit in subsequent posts.

Esssentialism and leaders we create

The basic idea and assumption behind the title to this blog was that beliefs about leaders are socially-constructed. A more formal treatment by Professor Grint suggests that ideas of an objective essence of leadership (‘essentialism’) are being challenged by newer ideas in which leadership is considered as a social construction. These ideas might have produced a blog entitled “leaders we create”.

Elected leaders

The implication of a social-constructivist view is that a social group has some influence of the acceptance and shaping of beliefs about its leaders. This contrasts with beliefs that leaders have objectively identifiable characteristics which make up the essence of leadership.

The measurable

Attempts to measure “essence of leadership” were weakened after a century of investigations of traits. This helped in the emergence of alternative proposals about the deepest nature of the phenomenon.

The elected leader

At its simplest, we can say that an elective leader is a person accepted as leader by a process of voting. This has considerable merits of reducing uncertainties as the constituency granted legitimate rights casts observable votes.

Putin as elected leader

By this reasoning, Vladimir Putin is the undisputed elected leader of Russia.

Do the Russian people “deserve” Mr Putin?

Some commentators argue that the elections were not “free and fair”. The election takes us back to the question about whether a society gets the leaders it deserves. Does the general proposition still hold? At very least, it needs to be re-examined taking into account the implications of processes which distort the leadership appointment process.

Transformational and pseudo-transformational leadership

The election may be a useful addition to the debate over transformational and pseudo-transformational leadership.

To be continued