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Applying behavioural insights to public policies
Applying behavioural insights to public policies

Based on the lessons of psychology and behavioural economics, ‘nudges’ are used to gently influence behaviour. Employed to guide users through their administrative formalities in France, they can encourage recourse to digital technology without forcing people to use it. More generally, nudges can be used to facilitate relations between authorities and users and to prevent risky behaviour.

Our individual decisions are influenced by context, our automatic reflexes and our subconscious. This is the premise of the nudge, an approach combining economics and behavioural science. Departing from the usual cost/benefit angle that seems to prevail in decision-making, this new tool helps to define a choice process that takes into account our feelings, social norms and the environment.


After analysing the context and the actual behaviour of target groups, it is possible to determine which types of nudge to use and when to use them. Nudges are based on a number of incentives that all rely on the principle of suggestion without compulsion, with emphasis on the possible benefit to the user rather than any obligation or fear of penalties. Transposed to the public sphere, nudges offer efficiency and savings for better service delivery.

An example of a nudge in the Public Finances Directorate General (DGFiP)

The Secretariat-General for Government Modernisation (SGMAP) is providing support for an initial ‘nudge’ trial in France in the Public Finances Directorate General (DGFiP). The purpose of the trial is to encourage use of online services for simple transactions so that tax office counters deal mainly with more complex operations with higher value added. Thus an ethnographic analysis of users’ behaviour, backgrounds and needs in their administrative transactions has shown the appropriate types of nudge to increase the number of transactions carried out online.

An innovative tool costing little

For government, use of nudges costs little and entails minimal risk. It is mainly a matter of rethinking and changing the architecture of choice (order, presentation, highlighting of benefits for users) in the light of a better understanding of the target group. Use of nudges makes it possible, without limiting the number of choices, to encourage people to make the right one without an organisational overhaul or a revolution in practices or techniques.

An influence with respect to the values of the French public sector

The trials conducted with the SGMAP require institutions to take ownership of these tools and define the framework in which they are to be used: nudges must not be detrimental to either the quality of the French public sector or its values. To this end there must be full transparency when introducing the method.

Used widely in the United States and Britain, nudges can even be part of public policy mechanisms. For health, road safety, the environment and prevention, nudges thus offer a new way of encouraging people to adopt new habits, and they also help to improve the service delivered by public authorities in France.

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