Nudge Nudge, Think Think! Contribute to cutting edge social housing research.

Photo by @markheybo of ‘Think!’ in street art from Norwich

What is Nudge?

Nudge burst into the public consciousness in 2008 with Thaler and Sunstein’s book called, well, ‘Nudge, improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness’. The book translated findings from the obscure field of behavioural economics into a language that policy makers and practitioners could understand and apply in their work.

Nudge outlines how human beings are prone to universal and predictable thinking shortcuts. It shows how changes to the environment, can ‘nudge’ people to make better choices that improve their long-term wellbeing. The classic example given is changing the layout of a cafeteria to encourage people to choose more healthy food options. Importantly, for many policy makers Nudging promises to be cheaper than traditional ways of influencing behaviour, such as giving people information or using legislation.

The rise of Nudge in policy making

As a result of the combination of saving money while ensuring people could still choose, the 2010 Coalition decided to adopt the approach. It spread via the creation of the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) in the same year. BIT now has offices all over the world in countries such as America, Singapore and Australia . The approach has spread to local authorities, charities, private companies and yes, social landlords.

A controversial topic

Nudge is not without its controversy. Some accuse it of allowing the government and other organisations to meddle just that bit too much. Others say it’s an excuse for government to shirk its duties to its citizens. Some say the science behind Nudge is not very good and the effects of Nudges are flimsy at best. Others that Nudges are effective and they stop us thinking and learning from our mistakes. Some researchers suggest that people don’t mind being nudged, as long as it’s in their best interest. Others, more anecdotally, say people hate the idea. So, in short, there’s a lot of debate and little research based on what’s actually happening. As a result there is a particular lack of focus on how organisations such as social landlords apply the approach.

About my research

My research is unique. It investigates how Nudge is applied by social landlords in England and the Netherlands, and what tenants think about this. This contributes to academic research, by investigating what happens in smaller and more specialist policy areas like social housing. It contributes to social housing by focussing less on ‘correct’ implementation and more on the ethical pros and cons. Ethics is of particular concern to organisations with a social purpose. The ethical debates surrounding Nudge continue to unfold. The research brings a tenant’s perspective into these reflections to ensure such decisions are carefully thought through from all angles.

How you can contribute

So far 20 interviews have been carried out with social housing based decision makers, practitioners and consultants working with Nudge. If you are considering or are using Nudge in your work, please message to discuss contributing anonymously and in confidence.

The research with tenants is in the final stages of design and will be ready in September/October. There is more information to follow soon…

To make a difference to research that will influence social housing, email me (Hannah Absalom) at