2016 Yearbook

32 Y E A R B O O K 2 0 1 6 glasses and making salad the default side order rather than chips. The BIT and others have sought to test the theory through research on practical examples of nudges in a diverse range of thematic areas. For example, the introduction of ‘prompted choice’ for organ donation, whereby the driving licence renewal process cannot be completed without stating whether the applicant wishes to be a donor, is seen as providing a possible means of increasing opt-in rates. The choice of words was also found to be important, with a one-in- three improvement when readers were reminded that they too might need an organ transplant. In the realm of charitable giving, in a trial targeted at encouraging investment bankers to donate a day’s salary, it was found that receiving a personalised email from a charity’s CEO, together with a packet of sweets, boosted the proportion of those giving from 5 per cent to 17 per cent. With reference to behaviour change concerning policies related to the built environment, nudges have been applied to the promotion of walking and cycling and, more prominently, to encouraging energy efficiency and other measures aimed at tackling climate change. However, the BIT’s 2015 update report does not cite any examples which illustrate the application of nudge to the conservation of the historic environment. This is clearly problematic in trying to evaluate its relevance to conservation practice. It may also be indicative of the relative lack of prioritisation for the historic environment within government, and the inexperience of conservation bodies in the field of nudge theory. Perhaps this should be of no great concern. There is a lack of clarity over what exactly constitutes a nudge and the ethics of what Adam Oliver calls its ‘libertarian paternalist’ philosophical roots and manipulative qualities seem questionable. Furthermore, criticisms of nudge theory such as those voiced by Tom Goodwin in the journal Politics (2012) dispute its ability to have a transformative impact on ‘the big problems that society faces’. Others argue that there is little evidence of its supremacy and comparative advantage vis-à-vis other types of policy intervention, including its scalability from individual to large-scale trials, and its transferability between different experimental settings. Several proponents also share such concerns over its effectiveness. Writing in a 2013 edition of Politics , Chris Mills suggests that nudge cannot on its own effect long-term behavioural change in the absence of regulation and other options within a policy mix. Indeed, far-reaching change ‘might require a push or a “shove” from government, rather than a mere nudge’, as Peter John and Liz Richardson argue. Thus, in relation to cycling and walking, policy interventions aimed at making these modes of travel more attractive than the principal alternative must be balanced with others rendering the use of the car harder and less acceptable if they are to have a significant impact. Because many aspects of the governance of the historic environment remain similarly dependent on conventional regulatory ‘carrots and sticks’ in what is frequently a resource-hungry and capital-intensive industry, nudge policies on their own might be limited in their overall impact. It would be a mistake to discount the use of nudges outright, however, in spite of such criticisms. Learning opportunities are certainly available for those concerned with the management of the historic environment. Some of these are obviously cross-cutting, including the use of information technology; the redesign and/or reconfiguring of letters, forms and other written communications; the subtle use of prompts and signposting information; and, more critically, applying behavioural insights into thinking more deeply about how we communicate, while exploring different ways to engender a desired response from the target audience. For non-governmental organisations, for example, the sustained focus of the BIT on giving and social action may provide lessons on improving fundraising in a difficult financial climate. Other examples might include brokering ‘neighbourhood agreements’ with local residents to increase participation in conservation area management, encouraging owners of historic buildings to avoid major repair bills by carrying out essential maintenance, and promoting the use of appropriate materials and skills. Nonetheless, these could be considered relatively ‘soft’ interventions compared to the daily activities of conservation officers, particularly in local authorities where enforcement and other planning functions are retained. Indeed, quite apart from the lack of attention devoted to historic environment conservation in the nudge literature, evidence of successful behaviour change interventions at the local level is patchy and confined to a few innovator authorities. Of course, significant reductions in local authority conservation officer numbers over recent years arguably make such experimentation more difficult. This remains an obvious irony arising from the driving low-cost ethos behind theories such as nudge. Further Information T Goodwin, ‘Why We Should Reject “Nudge”’, Politics , Vol 32(2), 2012 House of Lords, Behaviour Change , The Stationery Office, London, 2011 P John and L Richardson, Nudging Citizens Towards Localism? , The British Academy, London, 2012 C Mills, ‘Why Nudges Matter: A Reply to Goodwin’, Politics , Vol 33(1), 2013 A Oliver, ‘From Nudging to Budging: Using Behavioural Economics to Inform Public Sector Policy’, Journal of Social Policy , Vol 42(4), 2013 R Thaler and C Sunstein, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness , Yale University Press, New Haven, 2008 Andrew McClelland is a freelance consultant who has worked on various historic environment projects in the third sector and academia for over 13 years. He is currently chair of the IHBC’s Northern Ireland Branch Committee and will be taking up a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship at Maynooth University in September 2016.