The ethics of nudging: WINK
The WINK project investigates the merits of nudging as a promising and innovative approach to public health and welfare. ?Nudging? translates insights from behavioral research on decision-making to policy-relevant individual choices in order to gently suggest desired choices without infringing upon autonomy of individuals. It is based on the understanding that individual choices are generally driven by heuristic processes to which the presentation of alternatives can be attuned. Nudging refers to a variety of techniques with which governments and other agents (?choice architects?) may guide individual choices in order to improve decision outcomes. Nudging is based on ?libertarian paternalism?, which respects individual free choice (libertarian) but suggest the most sensible choices to individuals (paternalistic). The program focuses on public health and healthy lifestyle choices. Nudging is a highly promising alternative to existing policies, as it may be more effective, less intrusive and less costly. However, systematic research is lacking that investigates the effectiveness of various nudges, their normative acceptability and practical feasibility for public policies. This research program is a systematic empirical investigation of these three issues by a multidisciplinary research team, featuring psychologists and communication, ethics and public administration scholars. We will collaborate in a consortium with six of the most important policy actors in the field of public policy, public health and welfare: Netherlands School for Public Policy, Council for Social Development, Netherlands Centre for Ethics and Health, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy, and Municipal Public Health Service Utrecht.
Stas Vugts' first paper published in Behavioural Public Policy !
How autonomy is understood in discussion on the ethics of nudging
Nudging is considered a promising approach for behavioural change. At the same time, nudging has raised ethical concerns, specifically in relation to the impact of nudges on autonomous choice. A complexity is that in this debate authors may appeal to different understandings or dimensions of autonomy. Clarifying the different conceptualisations of autonomy in ethical debates around nudging would help to advance our understanding of the ethics of nudging. A literature review of these considerations was conducted in order to identify and differentiate between the conceptualisations of autonomy. In 33 articles on the ethics of nudging, we identified 280 autonomy considerations, which we labelled with 790 unique autonomy codes and grouped under 61 unique super-codes. Finally, we formulated three general conceptualisations of autonomy. Freedom of choice refers to the availability of options and the environment in which individuals have to make choices. Agency involves an individual’s capacity to deliberate and determine what to choose. Self-constitution relates to someone’s identity and self-chosen goals. In the debate about the ethics of nudging, authors refer to different senses of autonomy. Clarifying these conceptualisations contributes to a better understanding of how nudges can undermine or, on the other hand, strengthen autonomy.