How to Behave

nudging the 21st century city

  • Debate
  • Lecture

Date: Monday 09.10.17
Time: 20:00 (doors: 19:00)
Location: BAR, Schiekade 201
Admission: € 10,00 (€ 6,00 for students)
Language: English

How do you get citizens to exercise, eat healthy, keep the streets clean and pay their taxes? Policy makers, with the help of behavioural scientists, seem to have found the answer. You don’t tell people what to do, but you seduce them into making the best, healthiest and smartest choice. You redesign the context so people are given a subtle and hidden push in ‘the right direction’: a nudge.

Since the concept was first coined in 2008, by behavioural economists Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, the results are striking. No problem too complex – it seems – or it can be fixed by a nudge. And everyone wants to join the party: after the private sector, governments have stepped in and cities are, on a local level, starting to apply nudging to a broad range of government areas, including urban planning, taxation, safety and public health.

As we are entering the age of ‘libertarian paternalism’, a number of social, ethical and political questions are raised. To what extent do we want our governments to act as the architect of our choices? Which social problems can or cannot be addressed by nudges? How do we prevent them from turning into intrusive diktats and a form of ‘subliminal mind-control’? And who decides what is ‘good human behaviour’ when more and more of these nudges are being developed by commercial parties?

In How to behave: nudging the 21st century city we tap into the experience of the UK-based ‘nudge unit’: the internationally acclaimed Behavioural Insights Team that was installed by David Cameron in 2010 (and privatised in 2014). We analyse the pros and cons on an urban scale, examine the design of successful and unsuccessful nudges and debate the interests and visions behind seemingly depoliticised nudging strategies.


  • Michael Sanders – Chief Scientist and Head of Research, Evaluation and Social Action at the Behavioural Insights Team (United Kingdom)
  • Semiha Denktas – Professor of Health Psychology at Erasmus University and academic director of the Behavioural Insights Group Rotterdam
  • Philip Robichaud – Assistant professor of philosophy (VU Amsterdam) specialized in moral responsibility, applied ethics & working on the NWO-project ‘Nudging Responsibly’.
  • Jon Meijer – Director of Public Services, Municipality of Rotterdam

Moderated by Geert Maarse.

In cooperation with Behavioural Insights Group Rotterdam (BIG Rotterdam) and BAR.