ASTK18113U  Why and how to nudge - information-based governance and policy design

Volume 2018/2019

Bachelor student: 10 ECTS

Master student: 7.5 ECTS


Nudging has become the avant-garde of public governance and policy design since Thaler & Sunstein published their roadmap to more ‘health, wealth and happiness’ in 2008. The course will deal with questions of the basic theory and rationality behind nudging, as well as concrete instruments and tools used in concrete nudging interventions and the construction of so-called ‘choice architecture’ across different policy fields. In contrast to the emphasis on behavioral economics and social psychology advanced by the nudging itself, we will proceed from the basic claim that nudging is to a large degree a modified version of the well-known forms information-based approach to policy instrumentation. However, we will also see that nudging interventions present a more radical and potentially innovative approach to information-based policy design. The course is broadly divided into four sections:

1) The behaviorist and experimentalist foundation of the nudging agenda

2) The political theory (libertarian paternalism) and context (third way politics) of the nudging agenda  

3) The toolbox of nudging interventions and nudging as governance

4) The use and design of nudging in relation to specific policy problems.

Learning Outcome


Students will be able to…

  • Identify and define nudging as a distinct approach to public policy design and governance
  • Critically assess the basic assumptions, underlying theories and claims of the nudging agenda



Students will be able to…

  • Design and plan nudging interventions in relation to specific policy problems
  • Select, combine and evaluate different nudging tools and techniques
  • Critically discuss the value of nudging interventions



Students will be able to…

  • Contribute to policy development and problem-solving in public and private organizations as ‘choice architects’
  • Manage and coordinate relevant stakeholders in nudging interventions


-Thaler, R. H. & C. R. Sunstein. 2009. Nudge – Improving Decisions about Wealth, Health and Happiness, New York: Penguin Books

-Sunstein, Cass R. 2014. Why Nudge? The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism. New Haven: Yale University Press

-Halpern, David. 2015. Inside the Nudge Unit: How small changes can make a big difference. London: WH Allen

-Kahnemann, Daniel. 2011. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

-John, P., Cotterill, S., Richardson, L., Moseley, A., Stoker, G., Wales, C. & Smith, G. 2013. Nudge, Nudge, Think, Think: Experimenting with Ways to Change Civic Behaviour, London, Bloomsbury Academics

-Stoker, Gerry, Colin Hay, and Matthew Barr. 2015. "Fast thinking: Implications for democratic Politics."  European Journal of Political Research 55 (1):3-21.

-John, Peter. 2016. "Behavioral Approaches: How Nudges Lead to More Intelligent Policy Design." In Contemporary Approaches to Public Policy. Theories, Controverses and Perspectives, eds. Guy B. Peters and Philippe Zittoun. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 113-133

-Legget, W. .2014. ‘The politics of behavior change: nudge, neoliberalism and the state’, Policy & Politics, 42(1), 3-19

-Hood, Christopher, and Helen Margetts. 2007. The Tools of Government in the Digital Age. Houndsmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

-John, P. 2013. All tools are informational now: how information and persuasion define the tools of government. Policy & Politics, 41, 605-20.

-Abrahamse, Wokje, Linda Steg, Charles Vlek, and Talib Rothengatter. 2005. "A review of intervention studies aimed at household energy conservation."  Journal of Environmental Psychology 25:273-291

-Abrahamse, Wokje, Linda Steg, Charles Vlek, and Talib Rothengatter. 2007. "The effect of tailored information, goal setting, and tailored feedback on household energy use, energy-related behavior, and behavioral antecedents." Journal of Environmental Psychology 27:265-276

-Arno, Annelise, and Steve Thomas. 2016. "The efficacy of nudge theory strategies in influencing adult dietary behavior: a systematic review and meta-analysis."  BMC Public Health 16: 676, 1-11

-Robinson, Eric, Jason Thomas, Paul Aveyard, and Suzanne Higgs. 2014. "What everyone else is eating: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of informational eating norms on eating behavior."  Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 114 (3):414-429

-Holzmann, Robert 2014. "Participation in mandated and voluntary social risk management arrangements: the role and limits of financial education and other interventions." In Social Insurance, Informality and Labour Markets. How to Protect Workers while creating Good Jobs, eds. Markus  Frolich, David Kaplan, Carmen Pagés, Jamele Rigolini and David Robalino. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Course days will generally be structured as lectures followed by exercises and discussion sessions. The course will also feature a substantial supervision and sparring component in relation to design of nudging interventions and the concluding assignment.
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Free assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
Criteria for exam assesment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • Total
  • 56