PM’s nudge unit: why government needs to use randomised trials

The federal government’s behavioural economics team has produced a short guide to randomised controlled trials, which are essential for public servants who hope to subtly influence the behaviour of citizens.

They are one of two “core pillars” of the projects that are run by the Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government (BETA), the other being the design of the “behaviourally-informed interventions” themselves, according to a new guidebook written by Harvard University professor Michael Hiscox, who leads BETA, and adviser Phil Ames.

RCTs have been attached to the idea of influencing citizen behaviour by gently tweaking government communication materials all along, or at least since the White House first hired one of the academics who coined the term ‘nudge’ to describe it.

The United Kingdom’s behavioural economics team, which replicated itself inside the New South Wales Premier’s department, also strongly promotes small-scale experimental trials to test each new potential nudge against a control group. The NSW nudge unit recently produced a guide to some of the most common and well understood cognitive biases, which are another core concept in this increasingly popular modern approach to service delivery.

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