Regardless of what you think about nudge, behavioral regulation is afoot in Europe and is drawing the interest of a growing number of OECD countries. Here a brief overview of what happened over the Summer.

It has been an interesting Summer for those interested in nudging and, more broadly, in the use of behavioral insights into policymaking.

In late June, TEN – The European Nudge Network was launched with the aim to gather and exchange good practices among researchers, practitioners, stakeholders and policy-makers interested in Nudge throughout the European Union and beyond.

TEN’s approach draws upon the successful experience gained by the Danish Nudge Network as originally conceived by Pelle Guldborg. By creating an informal network of actors experimenting behavioral approach at different levels of government – be it local, regional, national or international -, this approach complements the more institutionalized experiments led by governmental entities, such as that pioneered by the well-established and thriving UK Behavioural Insights Team.

On that occasion we learned that the European Union is in the process to set up its ‘foresight team’, a unit to be located within the EU Commission Joint Research Center under the lead of the best policy thinkers inside the administration. The unit’s reason d’être is to centralize the efforts currently undertaken by some Directorates General of the EU Commission, such as DG Consumer Protection and Health (SANCO), to integrate behavioral insights into EU policymaking. By overcoming the current institutional fragmentation (some of the early studies are available here and here), the unit is expected to develop a robust methodology and to foster a behavioral mindset into the EU Commission civil servants. In addition to this institutional reform, the EU Commission, notably its Secretariat General, is also considering some major changes in the preparatory stage of policymaking. The draft of the revised Impact Assessment Guidelines, which are currently under public consultation, embrace, although warily, ‘behavioral economics’ as one of the possible bodies of knowledge that might enlighten policymakers when initiating the EU policy cycle. Both initiatives – the setting up of a EU Nudge Unit and the incorporation of behavioral considerations into the EU IA Guidelines – seem in line with what I had the chance to plead over the years here and – more recently – here. While a behavioral approach towards policymaking won’t be built by institutional design alone, this would never succeed without some institutional embedding in today’s EU policymaking.

Also the OECD, the rich-country think tank, is showing some interest in behavioral approaches to regulation. After the publication of a report on Regulatory Policy and Behavioural Economics – authored by Peter Lunn – in Spring 2014 (see here and here), the OECD is set to include ‘behavioral economics’ in its 2015 Regulatory Policy Outlook. One may therefore expect the OECD to recommend its members to tap into the potential of behavioral findings when conceiving their better regulation agenda. Given the OECD’s success in promoting innovative regulatory approaches across its country members, its embrace of behavioral regulation might be instrumental to its policy diffusion.

The growing commitment towards behavioral policymaking is not a prerogative of international and supranational organizations, such as the EU and the OECD.  The number of (rich) states embracing some behavioral thinking when regulating is also growing rapidly. After the United Kingdom and the United States, the first to pioneer the application of behavioral insights into policymaking, Australia, Singapore and many others are progressively joining the growing number of states experimenting with behavioral informed policymaking.

Germany is next in line. Angela Merkel’s spokesperson announced last week that the government is seeking behavioral advice in order to try new methods of ‘effective governance’. While it might appear too early to speculate about the real intentions pursued by the German government with the publication of this job vacancy, there appears to be a clear political resolve to test the potential of behavioral approaches to domestic policymaking. Given German’s legal system sensitivity towards the protection of personal autonomy and human dignity, we expect some cutting-edge research coming out soon. A conference has recently been announced by our friends at Verfassungsblog.

After some early experiences by the Centre d’Analyse Stratégique acting under the lead of Olivier Oullier, France seems ready to revamp its interest in behavioral policymaking. It recently entrusted a series of studies to BVA, a market research agency, and more work is on the pipeline. Eric Singler, the head of BVA’s Nudge Unit, recently presented his work for the French government on the pages of Libération.

This week it was the turn of Italy to make an appearance on the map of nudgers.

matteo renzi

On the occasion of the reform of Italian school system, the government employed – for the first time – the term ‘nudging’ in an official policy document. Speculations immediately ensued as to whether Italy was turning to behavioral policymaking. The unusually fancy-packaged document launched ‘the largest, more open, transparent consultation ever’ aimed at gathering the input of all stakeholders, ranging from teachers to students. Its 134 pages read more as a handbook on how to initiate policymaking in a modern country than as a working document framing a public consultation on a given topic. As such, the document namedrops virtually all ideas currently experimented by modern policymakers, including crowdsurcing, co-design, PPP, open data and, of course, nudging couldn’t go amiss. While its inclusion in the document must be welcomed, it remains unclear what the Italian Government intends to do in order to operationalize this policy concept. The first impression is that nudging – together with the other innovative regulatory techniques listed in the document – has been put forward to attain one major aim. Nudging, and (hopefully) more broadly behavioral policymaking, is perceived as one of the many approaches that could empower Italy to shift away from its antiquated, evidenceless, top-down policymaking to a more informed, participatory and bottom-up approach to public policy. Yet, due to its inherent technocratic nature, one may wonder whether nudging alone will be able to contribute to the good cause. The incipient Italian debate around nudging will be the central focus of the forthcomingconference ‘Behaviour Science and Policy’ organized by Nudge Italy on November 5-6, 2014 in Milan.

Last but not least, Canada continues its reflection about whether – and how – to embrace behavioral policymaking. Since 2013 the government has been experimenting, in a few selected policy fields, some behavioral-driven interventions.

It is against this backdrop that the Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice will host next week a promising international conference entitled  ‘Nudging Regulations: Designing And Drafting Regulatory Instruments For The 21st Century‘.

I have been asked to deliver to open the conference with a key note speech entitled ‘Promises and Pitfalls of Behavioural Regulation’. After a brief overview of the whys, whats and hows of behavioral regulation, the presentation will discuss the legitimacy, legality and practicability of this incipient regulatory approach to policymaking.

Although the talk will be in French and is unpublished, I will essentially rely on ‘Nudging Legally – On the Checks and Balances of Behavioural Regulation’, the article co-written with A. Spina that was recently published on the International Journal of Constitutional Law.

As anticipated by my colleague and discussant Bill Bogart on the Huffington Post, this appears a very timely conference.

In the meantime, amid this rapidly changing environment, Anne-Lise Sibony and I have been working on a book exploring the legal and policy implications deriving from the integration of behavioural insights into policymaking. The book’s title is ‘Nudge and the Law: A European Perspective and is forthcoming with Hart Publishing.

Regardless of what you think about nudge (hype or genuine revolution in policymaking?), behavioral regulation is afoot in Europe and is drawing the interest of a growing number of OECD countries.

These are exciting times for policy innovators & co. More to come!