At the invitation of assistant professor Dr Alexandra van Geen of Erasmus School of Economics, the renowned American Professor Max Bazerman of Harvard Business School visited Erasmus University Rotterdam on 23 January. Accompanied by 40 students from the illustrious university in Boston, the week-long visit involved working on projects of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. This was done in collaboration with 22 students from the Nudging in Finance seminar of Erasmus School of Economics.
The joint American and Dutch behavioural insight teams focused on the question of how the behaviour of consumers and members of the public could be influenced in a beneficial, positive manner. How do you prevent people from throwing trash in the street? How do you induce commuters to carpool? Or how can you make sure people turn off the lights to save energy? All of these projects revolved specifically around the following question: how do you give people a nudge in the right direction to elicit good behaviour without resorting to intrusive and strict regulations?
The Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment was impressed by the nudges conceived by the Harvard-Erasmus teams and will attempt to incorporate them in policy.
Max Bazerman’s visit also didn't escape the notice of the Het Financieele Dagblad (FD) daily. According to FD the term nudge came into vogue following the appearance of Nudge. Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by economist Richard Thaler and legal scholar Cass Sunstein. The book, inspired by insights from the fields of psychology and behavioural economics, advocates the idea of engineering of choice, or in other words, deliberately influencing choices people make.
For example, recent research involving Bazerman shows that people are more honest when filling in official forms if they first have to affirm that the information they provide is true at the top of the form rather than at the bottom.
The Americans’ visit to Erasmus School of Economics was concluded with a lunch at the Erasmus Paviljoen on the Woudestein campus, along with a seminar by Max Bazerman that was open to the public. One of the speakers during the lunch was Professor Jan Peter Balkenende. Using examples from practice, he related to the participants present how he used insights from the field of psychology to form or implement policy during his time as Prime Minister. In addition to Balkenende, Marc Schmitz (Rabobank senior vice-president), Francoise Rost van Tonningen (Ethics Officer of the Rabobank Group manager), and Prof. Robert Dur also spoke during the lunch. Schmitz and Rost van Tonningen discussed ethics in finance and Robert Dur expounded on the application of behavioural insights in Rotterdam. During Max Bazerman’s well-attended seminar, he spoke about bounded ethicality, or how and why people don't always act as ethically as they think they do. The seminar, along with a visit from the Harvard students, is scheduled to take place again next year.