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NudgeLab for RSM – how to structure your proposal?

The idea of NudgeLab is to drive behavior change. To do that, you need to know what the current behavior is and how you would like to change it. The proposal helps us understand how to do that and how you’re going to measure your success while doing so. Please find a guideline to structure your proposal in five steps.

1 Identify the trend

I have coached many students in the past couple of years and one of the things I have noticed is that you want to have a positive impact on society and nudge people to behave responsibly: help people become healthier to fight obesity, exercise more, eat less meat and more fruits and vegetables. Or you want to the world to become more sustainable by use renewable energy, produce less waste, reuse products, buy garment that is not manufactured using child labor, and so on. I think that’s adorable and applaudable. That’s why I want to give you NudgeLab as a platform to learn how to drive responsible behavior.

First, I want you to take a step back and identify a trend relevant to you, to society or business, and that you want to impact with a desired behavioral change. What is the mark you want to leave?

Of course, it is not mandatory to drive responsible behavior; you’re free to drive any kind of behavior. If you want to drive consumers to pay in cash instead of using cards or other electronic means to avoid the finance industry or tax authorities to track them, be my guest. Although, I will look at the ethical and moral side of your desired behavioral change. I won’t allow you to try and get people to smoke, kill, abuse, sign up for violent groups fighting for causes good or bad, or display racism or illegal or sexually inappropriate behavior.

2 Make it small

Second, I suggest that you identify one behavior in the trend that you want to impact. This is to have a balance between being relevant (for yourself, society and the timeframe of a Master thesis) and preventing you from boiling the ocean (trying to attain a goal that is unattainable by its sheer size). Examples are:

  • Fighting obesity -> reducing sugar consumption -> drink less soft drink (e.g., Coke) -> replace by water (not by fruit juices because it is at least equally bad)
  • Fighting obesity -> fighting snacking -> eat fewer crisps with saturated fats -> consume alternatives such as fruits or vegetables
  • Fighting obesity -> exercise more -> encouraging easy exercises, e.g., walking, taking stairs
  • Stop child labor -> create demand for products labelled “produced without child labor”
  • Halt global warming -> reduce greenhouse gasses -> reducing meat consumption -> address concerns about protein intake -> create awareness of non-meat alternatives e.g., beans
  • Halt global warming -> reduce greenhouse gasses -> encourage the use of public transportation instead of cars

You see that the goal setting of behavioral change ranges from generic (society level) to specific (individual behaviors that we may be able to influence).

3 Define the target group and situation that you want to impact

In the previous part you have defined the intended behavioral change. In this part you’re going to add more detail to it, by answering at least the following two questions:

  1. Who? Who is the specific target group of the behavioral change? For example, if you’re addressing nutritional habits to fight the global pandemic of obesity, you can address many target groups, e.g., people who are already obese and struggle with their diet, with compliance, with developing healthy nutritional habits, but you can also be preventative and address people who are not yet obese, but a risk groups, or not even a risk group but parents of young children exposed to sweets and candy.
  2. Where? Where is the environment that the current and desired behavior displayed? For example, do you want to impact consumer behavior at point of sale in store? Have them visit different stores, aisles, shelves? Do you want to change behavior at home; grazing, stocking, moments of eating or snacking? Do you want to impact online behavior, behavior of kids at school, and so on?

The nudges that you’ll design, may vary depending on the target group, situation or environment.

4 Understand current behavior

Fourth, I want you to understand the reasons for the current consumer’s behavior from a theoretical point of view. This does involve an initial overview of “consumer theory”.

For example, if you want to fight obesity by encouraging healthier nutritional habits, you’ll have to understand a few things first: why do consumers eat what they eat today, is it mere ignorance and habit and complacency that they eat other things; established rituals, heuristics, habits and practices, or is it a barrier towards eating healthier behavior (“I don’t like the taste and texture of fruits and vegetables”). The two situations may result in very different nudge designs.

In fact, eventually your thesis will include two (intertwined) overviews of theory:

  1. One which helps us understand the reasons for current behavior. You will start to address this in your proposal and refine it in the thesis itself.
  2. Another which helps us understand how we may change this behavior towards the desired behavior. You will only address this in the thesis, not in the proposal.

I believe those two are different yet interrelated and we can’t do the second without the first.

5 Set the ambition

The last step in the proposal is to define what does success look like? If you expect the entire population of meat eaters become vegan because of your nudge strategy, you’ll probably be disappointed. When are you happy? How many converts would you call a success? This will, in the final proposal and the thesis, inform the KPI (Key Performance Indicator) and it will help you do the driver’s analysis (the mandatory regression analysis part to see what has driven success). Express the ambition in SMART terms: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound (alternative definitions can apply). The attainability also applies to the timeframe of the thesis project.

After the proposal

Many of you may have been under the impression that you need to identify your nudges in the proposal, or that you must read extensive theory and write about that. Wrong! I don’t expect nudges, nudge programs or theory in the proposal; that will come after approval of the proposal and in the thesis. I want the proposal to set a clear problem statement and SMART objectives. I encourage you to read a lot yet primarily to be inspired for a clear and relevant problem statement.