December 19, 2011

Six principles of a good Choice Architect - inspiration for nudging consumers towards healthier food choices

Nudging is hot, as I described in an earlier blog post. Nudges are simple, low-cost interventions to move consumers towards healthier choices without banning (food) products or telling them how to live.

A freely available paper of Richard Thaler, Cass Sunstein and John Balz sketches the six principles of good choice architecture. A choice architect has the responsibility for organizing the context in which people make decisions.

The principles in the paper form the acronym NUDGES:
  • iNcentives - make consumers aware of the incentives they face. For example, make the costs saved of certain things salient, such as the cost per hour of lowering the temperature a few degrees or the calories burned by doing certain activities.
  • Understanding mappings - help consumers to improve their ability to map and hence select options that will make them better off. For example, make information more comprehensible and transparent (which is absolutely not the case with costs of mobile phone use or credit cards).
  • Defaults - a large number of people end up with the default option, the choice that you will get if you do nothing. Changing the defaults regarding the way food is served and presented could also change consumer choices for the better.
  • Give feedback - provide feedback on the performance of people (clever feedback systems).
  • Expect error - leaving the gas tank cap or bank card behind when done are examples of such predictable errors. This is called the 'postcompletion error'. As consumers make mistakes, a well designed choice architecture assumes that people make mistakes and takes this into account.
  • Structure complex choices - consumers are likely to go for a simple choice strategy when decisions are complex. So, the more complex a decision is, the more choice archictecs have to do their best to structure and organize the options.
    Schap op opstand2
    Nudging study: changed default snack assortment

These principles are an inspiration for empirical research into nudging consumers toward healthier food choices. At the staff canteen of a Dutch hospital, we recently changed the default assortiment of snacks (both healthy and unhealthy snacks) and measured how much we sold. Student Kai Otten will soon reveal the results of this interesting field study. Keep an eye on this blog.

More student nudging projects can be found at the page of this blog called 'Student thesis info: do consumer research yourself'.

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