Why and How to Nudge - Information-based Governance and Policy Design

Course content

Nudging has become the avant-garde of public governance and policy design since Thaler & Sunstein published their roadmap to more ‘health, wealth and happiness’ in 2008. The course will deal with questions of the basic theory and rationality behind nudging, as well as concrete instruments and tools used in concrete nudging interventions and the construction of so-called ‘choice architecture’ across different policy fields. In contrast to the emphasis on behavioral economics and social psychology advanced by the nudging itself, we will proceed from the basic claim that nudging is to a large degree a modified version of the well-known forms information-based approach to policy instrumentation. However, we will also see that nudging interventions present a more radical and potentially innovative approach to information-based policy design. The course is broadly divided into four sections: 1) The behaviorist and experimentalist foundation of the nudging agenda 2) The political theory (libertarian paternalism) and context (third way politics) of the nudging agenda  3) The toolbox of nudging interventions and nudging as governance 4) The use and design of nudging in relation to specific policy problems.




!! The structure of this course will be blended !! 


Bachelor student (2017 programme curriculum): 7.5 ECTS

Master student: 7.5 ECTS

Learning outcome


Students will be able to…

  • Identify and define nudging as a distinct approach to public policy design and governance
  • Critically assess the basic assumptions, underlying theories and claims of the nudging agenda



Students will be able to…

  • Design and plan nudging interventions in relation to specific policy problems
  • Select, combine and evaluate different nudging tools and techniques
  • Critically discuss the value of nudging interventions



Students will be able to…

  • Contribute to policy development and problem-solving in public and private organizations as ‘choice architects’
  • Manage and coordinate relevant stakeholders in nudging interventions

Course days will generally be structured as lectures followed by exercises and discussion sessions. The course will also feature a substantial supervision and sparring component in relation to design of nudging interventions and the concluding assignment.


Thaler, R. H. & C. R. Sunstein. 2009. Nudge – Improving Decisions about Wealth, Health and Happiness, New York: Penguin Books


Sunstein, Cass R. 2014. Why Nudge? The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism. New Haven: Yale University Press


Halpern, David. 2015. Inside the Nudge Unit: How small changes can make a big difference. London: WH Allen


Kahnemann, Daniel. 2011. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux


John, Peter. 2016. "Behavioral Approaches: How Nudges Lead to More Intelligent Policy Design." In Contemporary Approaches to Public Policy. Theories, Controverses and Perspectives, eds. Guy B. Peters and Philippe Zittoun. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 113-133


Legget, W. .2014. ‘The politics of behavior change: nudge, neoliberalism and the state’, Policy & Politics, 42(1), 3-19


Hood, Christopher, and Helen Margetts. 2007. The Tools of Government in the Digital Age. Houndsmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan


John, P. 2013. All tools are informational now: how information and persuasion define the tools of government. Policy & Politics, 41, 605-20.


Le Grand, J., & New, B. (2015). Government Paternalism. Nanny State or Helpful Friend? Princeton: Princeton University Press.


Madrian, B. C. (2014). APPLYING INSIGHTS FROM BEHAVIORAL ECONOMICS TO POLICY DESIGN. Annual review of economics, 6, 663-688.


Szaszi, B., Palinkas, A., Palfi, B., Szollosi, A., & Aczel, B. (2018). A Systematic Scoping Review of the Choice Architecture Movement: Toward Understanding When and Why Nudges Work. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 31(3), 355-366.


Arno, Annelise, and Steve Thomas. 2016. "The efficacy of nudge theory strategies in influencing adult dietary behavior: a systematic review and meta-analysis."  BMC Public Health 16: 676, 1-11

No specific requirements, but the course does require a certain willingness to engage different disciplines (public governance, policy studies, political theory, behavioral economics).

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Free assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28