A new UK study investigates governmental approaches to motivate citizens to change their behavior and do more to help themselves and others.
Researchers experimented with different intervention techniques that encouraged citizen participation, and explored people’s motivations for community involvement.
Investigators focused on comparing the effectiveness of “nudge” techniques, where people are offered incentives to change their behavior, and “think” techniques, which takes a planned approach where people are given information, the opportunity to discuss and debate a subject, and then opportunity to act.
Overall, researchers determined that while the nudge interventions yielded better results, these were not always sustained in the long term.
Nudge techniques included doorstep canvassing, receiving feedback on their actions and public recognition of their contribution.
For example, in a recycling experiment, there was a 10 percent increase in household recycling as a result of doorstep canvassing — a nudge technique.
Unfortunately, this effect did not last and after three months the increase was just four percent.
In another experiment people were asked to pledge used books to their local library. When the donors were told that their names would be made public, another nudge technique, donations went up by 22 per cent.
Researchers led by Peter John, Ph.D., discovered the “think” technique experiments, though less successful, offered unexpected results.
For example, researchers studied online debate forums where people were given information on a topic and the opportunity to discuss it; this resulted in modest changes in their policy positions. But the approach failed to encourage participation among people that were not already politically engaged.
Another experiment, using both techniques, attempted to encourage students to add their names to the organ donor register.
Dividing students into three groups, the researchers found that the group given an information booklet on organ donation experienced a 34 percent increase in registrations; the placebo group given information on swine flu recorded a 30 percent increase in registrations; but the group given the information on organ donation and time to discuss it achieved a 15 percent increase in registrations.
“The think experiments gave us more modest results, but it does not mean that governments should dismiss this approach,” John said. “Face-to-face techniques, more so than online, offer the potential for a richer and more complex platform for discussion and participation.”
The researchers also identified that people with positive feelings about their neighborhood, but with a distrust of government institutions, are more likely to get involved in their local area.
“The findings are very positive and supports the idea that a local approach using nudge and think techniques can lead to citizens getting involved in collective neighborhood activities,” John said.
“In order to sustain any actions the government has to adopt a more experimental culture, using local authorities and groups as well.
“Based on our findings we suggest that a mixture of nudge and think techniques combined with opportunity for positive two-way feedback – government to citizen and citizen to government – is needed.”