Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Nudge, Fun Theory and the role of incentives in libertarian paternalism

Recently Richard Thaler featured with the Op. ed. in the New York Times:  Making Good Citizenship Fun. In this he mentions the Piano Stairs of Volkswagen sponsored Fun Theory as a prominent example of how government may include positive reinforcement as an effective tool to encourage citizens to engage in civic behavior.

As readers of this blog are likely to have noticed we have our qualms and concerns with the validity of the Piano Stairs of Volkswagen Sponsored Fun Theory as well as with the place of Fun Theory within the nudge approach to behavioral change.

On the first node, there is little evidence of (if any at all), and we have little reason to believe that the piano stairs work outside touristic settings. On the second node, the piano stairs introduces incentives and thus breaks with the definition of a nudge.

Still, in our outreach work (lectures, workshops, etc.) we constantly experience how strongly attracted decision and policy makers are to Fun Theory - even when the arguments are put forth and the missing validity is pointed out....


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Yes! We are on CNN.com!

I promised to say when it would happen.

Richard Thaler, Robert Cialdini, and David Halpern... they are definitely on the top 5 list of my intellectual heroes. Needless to say, I'm very proud to see my name next to theirs... and then it's on CNN.com.  Now I've said it and tomorrow will be one of those days where our hard work will feel a little less hard.

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Sincerely yours, Pelle

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Green nudge: The Wattson clock cuts your electricity bill with style

Green nudges may improve the road to a more sustainable world. We take a look at how the Watson Clock nudges you to cut down on the electricity.

The Watson ClockYou might remember the OKITE clock we featured a while back, which effectively countered our own laziness and inability to get up on time by tweeting your friends everytime you hit snooze?

Now we turn to a clock with an even greater potential – Wattson from the company Energeno. Wattson initially looks just like a ordinary although fancy clock, but along with the clock you get a clip and a transmitter. These are connected to your home´s electricity meter and with them connected, Wattson starts measuring your total energy of your home's use in real time. Besides giving you the watts used, Wattson can calculate the costs and give you an idea of how much money your air-con or your fancy stereo is actually burning up. On top of that, Wattson can be made to glow in different lights that correspond to your energy usage, blue for low energy use, purple for average and red for high.

How does it work?
The Wattson clock qualifies as a nudge, since it doesn't really give you any new information. You could easily get the same data from your home's energy meter, look up the price for every watt consumed and calculate your costs. It doesn´t change the options you have, you still need to regulate your electric products yourself.

What it does, and does well, is that it predicts how we are going to act and is designed to counter that. We know that we should be aware of our exact energy spending, but inertia postpones looking up the watts and calculating the costs. Even if we do look it up, it's an abstract number and we have to constantly update it if we want it to be meaningful. By giving us the number in real time, and calculating the costs for us, Wattson makes it a salient piece of information that we can then act on all the time. It even predicts that we would probably come to ignore even this very salient information after a short while when the novelty wears of, and counters this by making its presence felt with the different lights. By hooking it up to your computer, you can store the information and see your energy usage go down over a period of time, which encourages you to keep saving or risk loosing money.

Cost and benefit
If you´re worried about the costs of the clock, we can tell you that the developers at Energeno claims it reduces energy usage by 25 pct and given the features and their collaboration with how we humans work, we're pretty sure that's this estimate is likely to be reliable. Given that a typical Danish household consumes 3-5.000 kWh per year – the clock pays for itself within a half to a whole year while saving the environment for a lot of co2.

By Andreas Maaløe Jespersen

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Green nudge: trayless cafeterias for reducing food waste

We do throw out an incredible amount of food, and little do we think about the role that trays in cafeterias play in this. But the truth can be surprising.

A tray of spicy dishes
At the moment I’m living in wonderful Singapore. A couple of days ago I got shown around the city by an Indonesian guy, who lives partly in Indonesia and Singapore. After a long walk at the Marina Bay, we went for some Asian food at a cafeteria. Asian food is amazingly delicious, but, as you probably already know, it is usually also really, really spicy.

In the cafeteria I grabbed a tray and walked around selecting a series of dishes – and as long as there was room on my tray, I kept putting food on it. But imagine the size of a tray, and compare it with the size of an average plate - it may be difficult to eat up a plate of food, but very few people are actually able to eat an entire tray of food! Unintentionally, I was headed either for a severe stomach ache, or making a rather large contribution to the global problem of food waste.

After trying most the food, burning of my tongue and sweating chili out of my forehead I had to give up. This definitely wasn’t in the favor of my Indonesian friend who pointed at me: “Eat up! Don’t throw food away!” And he couldn’t be more right. (Though, I am pretty sure, that I would have pasted out eating up the rest).

How trays contribute to food waste and how to prevent it
We do throw out an incredible amount of food, and little do we think about the role that trays play in this. However, a study at...

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