“Nudges are ways of influencing choice” (Hausman & Welch 2010) …a fundamental aspect in education.
The behavioural insights team, led by David Halpern, commonly known as the “nudge unit” was set up by David Cameron to “help people make better choices for themselves… (by gentle prompting or nudging).” The art of leadership, teaching and sparking change is often in the ability of “nudging” new ways of acting, learning and thinking in others.
Nudges are similar in nature to other powerful change agents: butterflies (Brighouse), bright spots (Heaths) or positive deviants (Sternin)… those outliers present in any population that, when amplified, have the power to leverage change and improvement. Thaler et al. highlight that there are influential strategies (nudges) that leaders can use as choice architects to influence choice and behaviour.
So leaders are choice architects; determining the environment in which noticed and un-noticed features influence the decisions that staff and students make. Leaders have the ability to influence behaviours, create social epidemics and use “nudges” to influence individual and group behaviour.
We are surrounded by nudges; good leaders see them, look for them and use them (often automatically), great leaders have an increased awareness of nudges and use them to spark change; clever, cheap and effective ways that change behaviours intrinsically – without forcing choices. Perhaps some obvious nudges are:
- What is placed onto observation forms and is therefore rewarded.
- Telling students how many marks they are away from the next grade and not their actual grade.
- Shifting Satisfactory to Requires Improvement.
- Removing levels.
- Any new performance measure – nudging by shifting the goal to where you want it and not wasting time supporting the how it can improve.
- Any new category that classifies performance of Academies or MATs – nudges improvement toward set criteria.
- Asking (not telling) others what they will contribute.
- Warning bell moved earlier to nudge punctuality.
- Accepting that change is the norm and not saying things like, “we just need stability”
- Never talking negatively as a leader – nudging that positive ethos that is desired.
- Being in every classroom everyday.
- Providing enough seating at lunchtime.
- Finding and promoting teaching bright spots.
- Removing all graffiti immediately.
- Using “we” and not “I” or “you” when collaborating.
- Investing in signage/branding that describes the accepted behaviour.
- Leading with Why and telling emotive stories of a compelling future.
- Not talking about behaviour and only about learning.
- Praising the good habits, only highlighting that which is desirable.
…you will have other nudges. As the choice architect of your organisation, team, classroom…
- do you recognise the nudges around you? …the nudges that influence you as well as the nudges that you use to influence others?
- how do you use nudges? Do we think and plan long enough to seek softer ways (nudges) to achieve the changes we wish to see?
- how can you nudge improvement?