In Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein recounted the story of the campaign to reduce littering on Texas highways called Don’t Mess with Texas. Prior to launching it, Texas officials were enormously frustrated by the failure of their previous, well-funded, and highly publicized advertising campaigns, which attempted to convince people that it was their civic duty to stop littering.
Many of the litterers were men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four, who were not exactly impressed by the idea that a bureaucratic elite wanted them to change their behavior.
Public officials decided that they needed “a tough-talking slogan that would also address the unique spirit of Texas pride.” Explicitly targeting the unresponsive audience, the state enlisted popular Dallas Cowboys football players to participate in television ads in which they collected litter, smashed beer cans in their bare hands, and growled, “Don’t mess with Texas!”
“Within the first year of the campaign,” Thaler and Sunstein explained, “litter in the state had been reduced by a remarkable 29 percent. In its first six years, there was a 72 percent reduction in visible roadside litter by 72 percent. All this happened not through mandates, threats, or coercion but through a creative nudge.”
Their book is about choice architecture, i.e., organizing the context in which people make decisions. As they define it, “a nudge is any aspect of choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. To count as a nudge, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. Nudges are not mandates.”
The Don’t Mess with Texas campaign exemplifies how nudges, not mandates, can disrupt the status quo, alter people’s behavior, and help bring about necessary changes.
But I don’t think a similar campaign would work for the data quality aspects of a data governance program, with celebrities participating in a change management campaign in which they cleansed data, ripped up error-ridden reports with their bare hands, and growled, “Don’t mess with Data!”
How Nudge You?
A Don’t Mess with Data campaign would sound too much like a mandate, not a nudge. So what creative nudges do you think might work for the data quality aspects of a data governance program?