Nudge, Nudge

In an article in 1843, Stanford researcher B.J. Fogg is claimed to be the founding father of "behavioural design", although I doubt that this is correct given that the basic theories have been around and applied for quite some time. However, it's interesting that he, again according to the article, is concerned about what his teachings might lead to although this apparently does not stop him from providing courses and workshops.

Fogg's behaviour model states that three things must happen at once for a specific behaviour to change or happen: The person must want to do it, he/she must be able to, and she/he must be prompted to do it. I really like his "tiny habit" concept, especially the celebration part which is awesome.

Another branch of the behavioural design area is nudging often focusing on making it easy for people to do the "right" thing from a societal perspective such as throwing garbage in bins or taking the stairs instead of the lift. The Behaviour Insight Team is the most prominent example of how this idea can be put to work. They call themselves a social purpose company and are jointly owned by the UK Government, Nesta and the employees.
Volkswagen made use of nudging theories in their much noticed and appreciated The Fun Theory campaign featuring the piano stairs and the deepest bin. The winning concept of "The Speed Camera Lottery" was implemented for a while in Stockholm. Apparently, the average speed which was 32 km/h before the test reduced to 25 km/h during the test, marking a 22% reduction in speed, thereby making the demonstration a grand success. Makes you wonder what it would take to implemented permanently.

One thing I like about the nudging area is that it's based on putting forward hypotheses and then looking at data to explore them. After investigating calls to the police in order to reduce pranks, the BIT team was able to come up with a (perhaps to some extent controversial) suggestion: wait 6 seconds before answering. Apparently, just hearing the phone ring puts pranksters off to a large extent. However, I suppose that it's not that easy to calculate balancing the reduced cost for fewer prankster calls with letting people with serious issues wait longer. There is also the risk of people changing back to former behaviour once the novelty has worn off.

According to their website, the objectives for the Behaviour Insight Team is to make public services more cost-effective and easier for citizens to use, improve outcomes by introducing a more realistic model of human behaviour to policy; and wherever possible, enable people to make ‘better choices for themselves’. What is best for the people is, of course, a matter of opinion.

It's fascinating although to some extent worrying that the same theories and methods can be used for (at least aiming at) societal good and for making profitable although often thoroughly damaging products.

One of Fogg's former students, Nir Eyal, wrote the bestseller "Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products". Another one, Mike Krieger, put his theory into practice and created Instagram. I wonder what governments looking into the teachings of the BIT team will get up to.

Yet another Fogg disciple, Tristan Harris, is a leader in the “Time Well Spent” movement focusing on creating "technology designed to enhance our humanity over additional screen time". I very much recommend reading his article "How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist".
"We need our smartphones, notifications screens and web browsers to be exoskeletons for our minds and interpersonal relationships that put our values, not our impulses, first. People’s time is valuable. And we should protect it with the same rigor as privacy and other digital rights." Tristan Harris

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