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Posts Tagged ‘Gerry Stoker’

Matthew Taylor’s blog is a very useful source of information on new thinking on a wide range of issues, many of which relate to local government.  It is through his blog that I discovered a recent article, Nudge Nudge, Think Think: Two Strategies for Changing Civic Behaviour.  The article is written by Gerry Stoker, Peter John and Graham Smith and is part of a programme of work called ‘Rediscovering the Civic – Achieving Better Outcomes in Public Policy.  There is also a web site which has a number of useful articles.

The article provides a very clear summary of Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s book, Nudge, about which I have blogged previously.  It then sets the Nudge theory of changing civic behaviour by creating the right choice architecture to guide people into making what policy makers believe are the better choices, against an alternative way of changing civic behaviour – ‘the think strategy’.  In this approach, the emphasis is on creating conditions and processes that mobilise people and enable them to engage in a meaningful deliberative process which is interlinked with democratic structures.  The article gives the (much used) example of participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

So where Nudge is about getting the messages right and ensuring the default options mean that people’s natural inertia won’t work against their own and society’s wider long term interests, Think is about creating new institutional spaces to support citizen-led investigation.  The article says that, ‘the deliberation strategy assumes that the individual can step away from their day-to-day experiences, throw off their blinkers and reflect on the wide range of policy choices and dilemmas.  People can be knowledge hungry, learn to process new information and reach new heights of reflection and judgement.’

In the best traditions of academics, the article concludes that both Nudge and Think have something to learn from one another and will need to find a way of rubbing along with each other.  Personally, it seems to me that Nudge is based upon a more realistic view of human nature than the deliberative democracy approach.  Maybe the opportunities currently available to people to participate just aren’t attractive enough and it is a case not so much of getting the choice architecture right as getting the engagement architecture right. 

But I’m not convinced – is the appetite really there?  And in a week when the publication of MPs expenses seems to be further eroding public trust in our democratic institutions, it feels as if in the future it is going to be even harder to persuade people to participate.  The duty to promote democracy is all well and good, but there may be more fundamental reasons why people have disengaged. 

30 years ago turnout was at 63% and even in 2004 it was 46%.  Perhaps turn-out isn’t everything but in representative democracies, if people aren’t willing to participate in elections, will significant numbers really engage in collective deliberative decision-making processes, which as the article’s authors point out are time consuming, prone to manipulation and failure.

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