Nudge and co-design are gaining popularity as innovative approaches to solving policy problems. An article in Policy Studies compares these two approaches. It also reflects on the implications for policy effectiveness, political trust and government legitimacy.


This article summarises, 'Nudge and co-design: complementary or contradictory approaches to policy innovation?' by Colette Einfeld & Emma Blomkamp, Policy Studies, January 2021

The original article is available via individual subscription to the journal or institutional access through a library service such as a university library, state library or government library.

Each fortnight The Bridge summarises a recent piece of academic research of relevance to public sector managers.

Defining co-design in policymaking

Co-design is an iterative, participatory and action-oriented process to address public problems. Co-design puts the people affected by an issue (or “end users” of the program or service being designed) at the heart of a creative process. It draws on design thinking - a way of bundling key processes and principles from the commercial field of design so that non-designers can understand and use them.

The article focuses on the participatory, or collaborative, model known as “co-design”. This actively involves people with lived experience in designing options or solutions, in contrast to other design-based approaches where the designer may create the solution based on insights they have gained from others.

Defining nudge in policymaking

Nudge is an approach to policymaking that recognises people are not always rational. They are subject to cognitive biases and heuristics that influence their decisions. Nudge theory proposes policy-makers should recognises that people do not always make the decisions they would if they had more time and using their full cognitive ability.

Nudge encourages policy-makers to design policies that respond to the ways in which people actually behave. This is done through the use of “choice architecture” – a term used to describe how changing the way in which choices are presented can influence the decision made.

Nudge was developed from behavioural economics and psychology. It uses principles from these disciplines to design and develop the choice architecture. A classic example is the use of defaults. By making a particular decision the default, policy-makers are able to strongly guide citizens into making this decision. Although citizens are directed towards a particular decision, they are able to select other options. Nudges are not mandates.

Rationales for use

Both co-design and nudge have been presented as ways of finding a solution to some of the big societal problems facing governments.

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