Technology The “nudge”, gentle manipulation for times of crisis

The “nudge”, gentle manipulation for times of crisis

Before using the nudge at the Elysee Palace, Emmanuel Macron had already wanted to use the concept on the occasion of his campaign for the 2017 presidential election (LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP)

In French, we would translate “nudge” by “coup de coude”. The concept comes from behavioral sciences, it was theorized in 2008 by two American economists, Cass Sunstein, and Richard Thaler (winner of the Nobel Prize in economics in 2017). On the cover of their book, a large elephant guides a small elephant. This is the principle ofnudge “, sometimes described as” liberal paternalism “or” soft manipulation “: from a detailed knowledge of the mechanisms of choice of sometimes irrational individuals, lead them towards the best choice, for themselves and for others, with the general interest as an objective.

When the government wants the French to leave the FFP2 masks and surgical masks that caregivers lack, it calls the fabric masks “general public”. It’s anudge. ”To make them understand that we are not facing a“ little flu ”, we hit them with the death toll every night. “NOTudge “ again. For them to think together times before going out, they are asked to complete a complex certificate. “NOTudge “ always.

The leader of “notudge “ in France, it is the polling and consulting company, BVA, under the leadership of its managing director, Eric Singler. In an advertising spot intended for its customers, BVA praises the virtues of “notudge ” : “remarkable power at a very low cost”.

The next “notudge “ which Éric Singler reflects on: encouraging the French to be vaccinated. The “nudge” plays on several strings, he explains. First of all, it is a question of facilitating the “right” choice: the more centers we create, the more decision points we create.

Every time I pass a pharmacy I have to see ‘possibility of vaccination’. This prompts me to ask myself the question: ‘am I doing this, am not doing?’

Éric Singler, CEO of BVA

to franceinfo

The other key, he says, is the pressure of the social norm: “You can get vaccinated everywhere, millions of people get vaccinated around the world. The default choice, the norm becomes vaccination. One day I say to myself: ‘Come on, I’m going!'”.

The TousAnticovid application was very “naked”: the first figure to which the user has access, after the number of infections per day, is the number of vaccinated. And the government communicates regularly on the number of users of the application to encourage others to download it.

The executive did not wait for the health crisis to take an interest innudge “. The first note that BVA produced for Emmanuel Macron was in 2014, when he was Minister of the Economy. He wanted anudge unites “, like Barak Obama in the United States, and like David Cameron in Great Britain, both keen on behavioral sciences. In the United States, Barak Obama even hired Harvard professor Cass Sunstein in the White House. He used thenudge “ in the development of its public policies, for example to facilitate the access of disadvantaged students to the scholarship system, or to encourage employees to save for their retirement.

In 2014, in Bercy, the project was ultimately unsuccessful. BVA, on the other hand, was recalled three years later, to boost Emmanuel Macron’s campaign, work on the website, encourage memberships and donations.

Emmanuel Macron would probably have won, the momentum was good, it is difficult to quantify the contribution of behavioral sciences, but yes, I think we contributed to the victory.

Éric Singler, CEO of BVA

to franceinfo

The weekend of March 15, 2020, while France votes for the municipal elections, but appears in crowds and without a mask, Eric Singler calls out to power, urges it to seek the advice of specialists in behavioral sciences. The Élysée reminds us of this. Each BVA note is billed between 2,000 and 5,000 euros. Eric Singler says he has produced around 20 since the start of the crisis. This may come as a surprise.

After the arrival of Emmanuel Macron to power, a behavioral sciences unit was created, within an interministerial direction, the DITP, in charge of public transformation. In addition to its boss, Stephan Giraud, the unit has four tenured researchers and several trainees from the École normale supérieure; the ENS has a department of cognitive science. Its director of studies, Coralie Chevallier, was even integrated into the Castex mission on deconfinement in spring 2020. It is therefore surprising that in an interview with the magazine Society, the Prime Minister explains having found his name by doing a search on Google.

For the services of Matignon, the two approaches, that of BVA, and that of the researchers, are complementary. Where BVA works on formulas, and inexpensive and invoiced tips, the “behavioral sciences” unit carries out longer-term projects. For example, she worked on how to loosen the grip and the pressure on nursing home staff, including by trying to influence the behavior of the administration towards them, via a home sports platform during the first confinement, however closed since, or on the home monitoring of Covid patients.

My team really comes from the world of research, with real expertise in cognitive knowledge, but also in evaluation, which is really a major issue in this kind of work.“, explains Stéphan Giraud.”You have to understand but also assess what is being done“, he insists. For him,”the nudge is a tiny tip of the behavioral and cognitive science iceberg“.

The nudge side can be really useful when you want to change behaviors“, but it is in his eyes”often limited to a kind of exercise in creativity, around solutions that are intended to be more incentive, less expensive and others. This can be the case, and so much the better if it is.“. But he concludes: “PTo draw a parallel with the current pandemic, the nudge is a kind of barrier gesture, often useful, but with limited use. The behavioral approach is closer to the vaccine “.

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