President Obama’s Executive Order on Using Behavioral Insights to Better Serve the American People: A Nudge in the Right Direction!

December 9, 2015

By Olivia Patterson

For those of us working in the behavioral sciences focusing on end-use energy efficiency, it was invigorating to read President Obama’s Executive Order “Using Behavioral Science Insights to Better Serve the American People,” as well as the Social and Behavioral Sciences Team’s (SBST) Annual Report.  The term “nudge,” as so playfully used in media coverage of the Executive Order, refers to the ground-breaking book by the same name written by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein.  Nudge’s impact on consumer behavior is undeniable, and should be required reading for anyone seeking a career in the behavioral sciences.

The SBST Annual Report gives numerous examples of how small behavioral changes can reap big rewards.  The pilot programs included sending text messages to high school seniors to nudge them into completing tasks for college enrollment (enrollments in the pilot cities increased by 3.1%) to encouraging double-sided printing with a simple pop-up message, which increased the likelihood of double-sided printing by 5.8%.

In our realm of energy efficiency, behavioral programs have moved beyond the pilot stage to take their place in the mainstream, with social science an integral part of program design.

As evaluators, we are able to test the effectiveness of these programs and provide guidance and input into the design of future programs and evaluation.  Some thoughts and recommendations for program design include:

  • Start your design process by segmenting your customer.
  • Incorporate rewards, pledges and gifts.
  • All research points to convenience. It’s not always about the money; it can be interacting with a customer’s social group.
  • Customer participation is all about timing.
  • Persistence is key: keep measuring throughout the life of the program and use the right metrics.
  • It’s not just about energy efficiency; we’re moving toward increased customer engagement, marketing and outreach. When you support your customer by helping them take control, you increase customer satisfaction.

New programs continue to be launched with customer engagement in mind, and isn’t customer satisfaction and energy efficiency why we’re all here?