Nudge theory is coming to the streets of a town near you. In fact, nudge theory may already have influenced your behaviour today.

Since the publication of behavioural economists Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein’s  “Nudge” in 2008, thoughts and theories about how people can be prompted or nudged to make certain decisions have gained more and more traction.

The present UK government, for one, have fallen head over heels in love with the nudge notions – so much so that they set up a dedicated “nudge unit” which can point to various successes across a number of different government departments.

It’s a topic which Fiona McAnena from Clearhound expanded on at last year’s CultureTECH festival in Derry. Over the course of a Banter session about the art of hidden persuasion and how it can help companies grow, McAnena pointed to an abundance of ways in which certain actions had a demonstrable effect on consumer behaviour.

Behavioural economics and persuasion theory are often viewed as dark arts. You can be sure, for example, that many detractors are having a field day with Facebook's recent experiment in news feeds as a way of discreding the nudge effect. But it’s a term which can often be applied to innovations which probably didn’t have a clearly defined nudge in mind in the first place.

At the risk of turning The Agile into a transport blog – see our recent posts on taxis, trains, ships and amphibious vehicles manned by Vikings – look at the the highly successful Dublin Bikes rental scheme in Dublin and plans to add similar operations in Cork and Limerick. There's also the big uptake on the Bike to Work tax scheme. All of which means there are now more people cycling around our cities than was the case a few years ago. It just took a little nudge in the right direction. 

In many ways, as someone who has cycled in Dublin for as long as he has lived here, I take the cycling in the capital for granted. But a recent visit to London - a city where I worked in the past and where my occasional commute by bicycle was always regarded as rather eccentric behaviour by my co-workers - was quite illustrative of how successful their Boris Bikes scheme has been. Aside from people puffing away on these big-boned rental bikes, there was also many hundreds of others also cycling around, a sight which was a rarity a few years ago. 

Again, it's a case of a nudge caused by investment in public behaviour with all the health and societal knock-on benefits which arise from that. You get people up and about on bikes, you get less cars on the road and you have drivers (hopefully) paying more attention to the cyclists in their environment. Everyone's a winner - and all it took was a slight nudge to get started. 

Image credit: Melfoody