Meet Colette Einfeld: Doctoral candidate exploring ‘nudge policy’

Colette Einfeld’s PhD aims to capture the development, implementation and evaluation of a ‘nudge’ policy, with a focus on understanding the processes and best practice of nudge policy development.

Colette Einfeld’s PhD aims to capture the development, implementation and evaluation of a ‘nudge’ policy.

Einfeld is a PhD student with the Centre for Applied Social Research. Her thesis, Nudging Policy: Libertarian Paternalism in the Australian Social Policy context, aims to capture the development, implementation and evaluation of a ‘nudge’ policy, and to understand the processes and best practice of nudge policy development.

What is nudge policy?

Nudge policy refers to an approach to policy development that ‘nudges’ people towards choices that make them better off, without restricting their ability to make other choices. It does this by making use of behavioural insights when designing the decision-making environment.

The term ‘libertarian paternalism’ was coined to describe this approach – it is libertarian, in that citizens are still free to make their own choices, and paternalistic as it attempts to influence citizens’ choices to improve their lives.

Nudges work chiefly through the process of ‘choice architecture’ whereby policy makers structure the environment for decision making in such a way that people are ‘nudged’ towards certain decisions. A brief example is making a particular choice the default option on a form, as most people will leave the default choice as their selected option.

Why is it important to know more about the processes behind nudge policy development?

The use of nudging by governments in Australia and overseas is increasing. For many it is a useful tool for addressing key challenges faced by government, as it is seen as cost effective, and non-regulatory without limiting citizen’s personal choices.

Critics, however, argue that nudges are inappropriate for governments to use for a number of ethical and practical reasons, including that the approach is subject to abuse by those in power, and that this approach is in fact a manipulation of individual choice.

Despite its popularity and application in areas ranging from health to fine payment to energy savings, little attention has been paid to how citizens’ choices are considered when developing these policies.

What is your research trying to achieve?

My research will look at how choice is constructed and considered in nudge policies, and how this might differ from dominant policy approaches.

Using ethnographic research and interpretive policy analysis, this research aims to understand how policy makers consider policy targets, and their choices, in the development, implementation and evaluation of the policies.

This research is also intended to have practical outcomes and aid understanding of how, when, and why to roll out such programs.

As a relatively new area of policy development, this project will contribute to the development of an evidence base to capture best practice in behavioral insights policy in Australia and will make an important contribution by locating nudge within the choice and policy analysis literature.

What made you want to explore this topic?

I have followed the development and use of ‘nudge’ since my work in health promotion research and evaluation.

I have had the opportunity since then, working alongside government department and agencies, to witness the discourse around nudging as a tool to address key government challenges.

Being interested in the complexities of employing nudges, how it affects people’s choices, and how this is considered within government, I could not help but take up the opportunity to explore this area further.

About Colette Einfeld:

Colette Einfeld has worked across a number of industries, including not-for-profit organisations, universities, media organisations, and management consultancies, and has experience working with the resource sector, health organisations, government departments and agencies.

She has experience with end to end management of qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods research projects, as well as social impact assessments, program evaluations, stakeholder engagement research, and community perception surveys.

Her research interests include program and policy research and evaluation, health promotion, stakeholder research, and sustainability.

Einfeld is supervised by Kay Cook (primary), Brian Coffey (secondary) and Sonia Martin (secondary).

Story: Alice Macfarlan

Originally published by RMIT News