Sanchayan Banerjee, LSE & Peter John, Kings College London
Two academics are in a bind. They like the linguistic purity of the two-word term ‘nudge plus’; however, after a gentle nudge from a fellow academic to boost the wider capacity of this term and a quick round of deliberation between them, they have come to believe that nudge+ might actually be better (even ‘for good’!). When nudge is written with a + at its end, its meaning would be more recognisable to all. Nudge+ might convey the motivation behind the contemporary research agenda (Banerjee and John 2021) in a more compelling way—the need to go beyond the nudge. Nudge+ offers a visual representation lacking in the traditional and conventional expression of nudge plus.
But where did it all come from? The birth of nudge plus was from a series of trials led by Peter John, Sarah Cotterill, Alice Moseley, Liz Richardson, Graham Smith, Gerry Stoker, and Corinne Wales, who tested nudge and think interventions designed to foster civic behaviours, particularly in community and local settings, published in Nudge, Nudge, Think, Think: Experimenting with ways to change citizen behaviour (2013; 2019). The test of nudge, which needs no introduction today, came from the works of Thaler and Sunstein (2009), represents the idea that interventions to change behaviour can be light-touch, working with people’s natural biases to get them to where, ideally, they (society) would like to go, allowing them to opt out of whatever direction choice architecture is leading them to. The competing test of think refers to the range of cognitive strategies designed to encourage people to reflect on the choices they face, for their personal and societal welfare, either on their own, or in collaboration with others, which can include self-reflection devices, such as writing out objectives, or more collective thinks, such as citizen juries or assemblies. This is the realm of empowerment and deliberative democracy.
It was quickly apparent in Nudge, Nudge, Think, Think that nudges worked, but it was quite difficult to scale up the thinks, which often came in with a bigger ask for citizens. To minimise this problem, in a range of publications (John 2018; John and Stoker 2019; Richardson and John 2021), Gerry, Peter, and Liz became convinced of the possibility of a hybrid tool that could envisage a form of nudge being delivered but alongside a think, which would eventually enhance the nudge. Hence, nudge plus.
Nudge plus makes the think more manageable, less costly, and more relevant as it was close to the task at hand. Nudge plus even democratises thinks, which tended to be rather restricted to the few in deliberations and other structured consultation exercises. In these publications, and later in the psychological theorising (Banerjee and John 2021), the old terminology was retained in place in its complete form to offer consistency to readers. Sometimes, in the drafting stages of written outputs and proposals, the trusty authors made an occasional deviation (shock, horror!) accidentally replacing a plus with a +, perhaps for ease of writing or to create variation, only to correct themselves back to the straight and narrow again with the plus that had been faithfully handed down to them. Path dependence is powerful, especially with language. For a concept so new, it is important to secure brand recognition among all the concepts and ideas vying for attention out there. Then there is the need for citations, and the even worse prospect of Google creating separate listings for nudge plus and nudge (remembering too the sad fate of Google+). Nudge plus’s baby steps might be more difficult with such a split identity.
Then, Ralph Hertwig, known for his work on capacity-enhancing boosts (Hertwig 2017; Hertwig and Grüne-Yanoff 2017), changed their joint text on an evolving manuscript of their new idea called the ‘behavioural agency framework’. Nudge plus suddenly became the cooler nudge+, thanks to nifty editing by Ralph. And for a change, the two collaborators did not resist. It was so quick¾it felt right, so they smiled at the simplicity of it all. But when does anything come that easy? Overthinking often comes naturally to nudge plusers, who think all the time about empowering citizens to think about the nudge. They wondered again if it was the right thing to do, a case of buyer’s remorse. But maybe nudge plus is fairly generic after all, with lots of pluses about, and the reader might not grasp the distinctiveness of the shiny new concept. The + is more distinctive and stresses the link from nudge to think, and beyond. It looks better, like a trademark even, ready to cheekily run alongside a nudge with just a +, so transforming nudge with its subliminal radicalism. The indefatigable researchers wowed themselves, believing in the new dawn of nudge+ whilst retaining wistful nostalgia for the halcyon days of nudge plus. So, RIP nudge plus, long live nudge+
Banerjee, Sanchayan, and Peter John. 2021. ‘Nudge plus: Incorporating Reflection into Behavioral Public Policy’. Behavioural Public Policy, 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1017/bpp.2021.6.
Hertwig, Ralph. 2017. ‘When to Consider Boosting: Some Rules for Policy-Makers’. Behavioural Public Policy 1 (2): 143–61.
Hertwig, Ralph, and Till Grüne-Yanoff. 2017. ‘Nudging and Boosting: Steering or Empowering Good Decisions’. Perspectives on Psychological Science 12 (6): 973–86.
John, Peter. 2018. How Far to Nudge?: Assessing Behavioural Public Policy. Cheltenham, UK ; Northamption, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd.
John, Peter, Sarah Cotterill, Alice Moseley, Liz Richardson, Graham Smith, Gerry Stoker, and Corinne Wales. 2019. Nudge, Nudge, Think, Think: Experimenting with Ways to Change Citizen Behaviour. S.l.: Manchester University Press.
John, Peter, Sarah Cotterill, Liz Richardson, Alice Moseley, Graham Smith, Gerry Stoker, and Corinne Wales. 2013. Nudge, Nudge, Think, Think: Experimenting with Ways to Change Civic Behaviour. A&C Black.
John, Peter, and Gerry Stoker. 2019. ‘Rethinking the Role of Experts and Expertise in Behavioural Public Policy’. Text. April 2019. https://doi.org/info:doi/10.1332/030557319X15526371698257.
Richardson, Liz, and Peter John. 2021. ‘Co-Designing Behavioural Public Policy: Lessons from the Field about How to “Nudge Plus”’. Evidence & Policy: A Journal of Research, Debate and Practice 17 (3): 405–22. https://doi.org/10.1332/174426420X16000979778231.
Thaler, Richard H., and Cass R. Sunstein. 2009. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness. London: Penguin.
 Ralph Hertwig, Director—ARC Max Planck Institute, Berlin.