A lot has happened since 2008, when Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler co-founded the now widely popular “nudge theory”, with a best-selling co-authored book to boot – aptly titled Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Back then, Sunstein’s and Thaler’s work prompted a global movement that popularized, catapulted and challenged the behavioral science community beyond its walled gardens and echo chambers. Nudge theory centered on a simple human insight that resonated with people first, scientists second: by understanding why people behaved the way they did today, we could influence how they behaved tomorrow.
Albeit seemingly simple, this theory has broken new ground the world over in data-backed, evidence-based public policymaking – Abhijit Banerjee’s, Esther Duflo’s and Michael Kremer’s Nobel Prize-winning experimental work toward poverty alleviation springs to mind. It is not without reason, then, that since 2010, over 200 behavioral insights and nudge units have been set up across governmental entities, NGOs and academic institutions. In 2016, the Arab world saw it first; B4Development foundation (B4D) was established in 2016 as the Qatar Behavioral Insights Unit, by none other than Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC) – the entity behind the 2022 FIFA World Cup™.
Over the past three years, B4D conducted over 25 experiments, gathering concrete data on the effectiveness of behavioral insights in the build and design of people-centric policies. Our partnership with the SC has since moved leaps and bounds in empowering the people behind its Workers’ Welfare Forum and Generation Amazing (GA) legacy programs to communicate, commit and take action, one nudge at a time. We have a lot more to do.
Now, as we enter our fourth year, we’re broadening B4D’s ambitions and geographical footprint to address challenges that are critical to our global future. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals present the world with both a challenge and opportunity to tackle socioeconomic inequities with behavioral roots. Naturally, behavioral science should and will play a leading role in making this mission possible.
In the grand scheme of geopolitics and high-level rhetoric, it is imperative that global humanitarian actors and policymakers neither sideline nor undermine the role each individual nudge plays in the communities they serve; which brings us to last week, in New York, alongside GA and the Qatar Mission to the UN at the UNITAR forum on using behavioral insights and sports toward PVE (Preventing Violent Extremism). This is one of many crossover platforms to come, bringing together policymakers, organizations and behavioral experts in one room to tackle shared challenges toward common goals. A little nudge can go a long way, but it cannot go it alone.