Gov’t to spin off ‘nudge unit’

The Government is starting a process to spin off its Behavioral Insights Team, also known as the nudge unit, to create a profit making joint venture with a commercial partner.

Government to spin off Nudge Unit.

The division, set up in 2010 when the Coalition Government came into power, is tasked with applying insight and psychology to encourage people to make more positive life choices for themselves rather than relying on policy to dictate behaviour change.

It has worked with private sector organisations, NGOs and charities as well as Government departments in the past and will be the first policy unit to be spun off from Whitehall.

A commercial partner, which will put up new investment, will be found through a competitive pitch process launching today (1 May). It will remain part-owned by the Government and also offer an employee ownership model to encourage staff to drive innovation and growth.

A spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office claims the department has “delivered rapid results” since forming three years ago and has identified tens of millions of pounds of savings as well as improved the understanding of behavioural approaches within government and developed a “world leading” reputation.

In creating the division the Government set out its stand as a champion of ‘nudge theory’ to encourage behaviour change. The latest anti-smoking campaign, however, showing tumours growing on cigarettes, marked a return to shock tactics rather than using nudge theory to encourage people to quit.

Change4Life, the Government-led health campaign, has also taken a more forceful approach this year than in previous activity as the Department of Health looks to be more direct.

There is likely to be some scepticism over a commercial entity being involved with Government behaviour change initiatives but marketing-led organisations such as Unilever are attempting to use marketing to encourages positive behaviour change as part of its efforts to improve the environmental and social impact of its products.

Rory Sutherland, vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK, and former president of the IPA has long been a proponent of nudge theory and advertising acting as a “trigger” to a more positive behaviour.

Read our feature on the merits of shock tactics in marketing here.



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