Behavioral design - a push in the right direction towards agenda 2030

In the struggle to achieve the 17 goals within the framework of Agenda 2030, lessons from behavioral economics are applied, where the basis lies in shaping plans according to how we humans make decisions. FUF reports from a seminar where this issue took place with Ida Lemoine from the Behavior Lab.  

Behavioral economics is about how psychology affects different individuals and institutions' decision-making. In the United States and the United Kingdom, behavioral economists have found ways to improve welfare and increase the registration of pension plans by changing residents' behavior. Behavioral economics takes a step away from the more traditional view of economics, where people are always considered to act for the alternative that is in their best interest. In reality, this view becomes problematic, as our decisions are naturally governed by factors beyond what works in our best interests.

Richard Thaler, who according to many is considered the father of behavioral economics, has developed a number of theories with more realistic assumptions about individuals' actions before decisions in comparison with the traditional view. Last year's Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to Thaler and in the wider circles he, together with colleague Cass Sunstein, is known for popularizing various concepts in the subject, relevant for this report is the term "nudge", or "push" in Swedish. They highlight that a "nudge" is an action that an institution, company or organization can take to influence the decisions that individuals make in a way that is generally judged to be positive from several aspects.

At a seminar in Almedalen, Ida Lemoine, founder & CEO of the Behavior Lab, talks about Agenda 2030 as “the world's most important to-do list” and how she herself worked with behavioral design related to sustainable development. She explains that the solution to the problems we face between, stated will and real action, is about reducing short-term action and the opportunity to be able to create an environment where decisions are easy to make. The Behavior Lab works to create these environments by gathering insights from human behavior. An example that is discussed during the seminar is a project where they have succeeded in reducing the meat consumption of customers for a grocery chain. More specifically, they succeeded in reducing sales of meat by 917 kg and at the same time increasing sales of green alternatives, such as beans and carrots, by 956 kg. Store visitors received a "push" towards shopping more sustainably, by making the green alternative more accessible, supplemented with information that spoke of the positive effects behind a change in food consumption. According to the agency's website, the climate effect would have been equivalent to 25 revolutions around the world if the work had been carried out for one year instead of the seven weeks during which the project ran.

The results show that we are affected by the environment we make decisions in and that a “nudge” towards more sustainable alternatives is positive for all parties; individual, company and not least our planet. After the seminar, I have a short conversation with Ida where she further emphasizes that we can move away from our habit of prioritizing short-term solutions by creating an environment with an established and real action plan where decisions individuals face are easy to make.

I UNDP report “Behavioral insights at the United Nations- Achieving Agenda 2030”, explains how knowledge that emerges after studying individuals' behavior can be implemented in the work for Agenda 2030. The report illustrates this in an example where farmers in Kenya through a "nudge" have begun to use fertilizers to a greater extent. This was made possible only after the problem was identified, the obstacles behind low use were studied and alternatives to decisions that break down these obstacles were presented. The report clearly states that the obstacles behind the development problems we face are not primarily related to policy proposals, but that the challenge also lies in how different methods are to be applied to solve the problems.

Understanding the circumstances in which we find ourselves when problems arise is important. To do so and to be able to combine different disciplines in the work, is a step in the right direction towards going from the will behind the "world's most important to-do list" to real action to achieve the global goals.

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