There should be greater public involvement in deciding what is a legitimate ‘nudge’

The coalition government has been at the forefront of using insights from behavioural research to craft more effective policies, ‘nudging’ citizens in other words. Rikki Dean argues that ‘nudges’, especially those that rely on deception or concealment, should be subject to a ‘participatory principle’. Only citizens themselves can legitimately rule on what is in their own interest, and therefore there should be greater exploration around how to involve the public in decisions about their use.

Since its creation the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), or ‘Nudge Unit’, has received a lot of attention. Fêted both in the media and by the Prime Minister for its innovative, primarily experimental, approach to policy-making, BIT recently ran into its first scandal when The Guardiannewspaper claimed its innovations to Jobcentre Plus procedures involved forcing job-seekers to undertake ‘bogus psychometric tests’ in order to boost their psychological resilience. The story raises some interesting questions about the ethical limits of libertarian paternalism. Is it acceptable for government to deceive us if it is for our own good? And, can we trust that a nudge is a helping hand and not a shove in the back? Continue reading