Nudging as a Common Practice in International Aid

When asked last week by Alexandra Kemmerer and Maximilan Steinbeis to submit a comment on nudging, I accepted at short notice. My small contributing message to this debate is that nudging plays an important role in aid politics. Substantially, there are parallel debates going on, and you might find some of the insights useful by means of transferral. As this is a new and explorative debate, there might still be space for some inspiration from related fields. Principally, I am supporting Emanuel Towfigh’s and Christian Traxler’s blog entry with a too highly specific international perspective. I make this point because I worked for German aid until last year, and am now engaging in reflections of aid policies in research. For the same reason, though, I am also professionally detached from the identity of a German lawyer, and from this follows a limited capacity to anticipate how well this matches the habitus of this blog. I thought it worthwhile to override this insecurity. Let me explain why:

If you care less about nudging as a new label for a concept, and focus more on its substance, you will see it flourishing all around development aid. To little surprise: Aid flow architectures operate in a largely unregulated environment, and require incentivising actions and results across physically vast distances (humans are simply more likely to understand what is really going on in their direct physical proximity than thousands of miles away). With thus limited hard power resources (except for distributing financial recourses), it is especially necessary to know how you can effectively influence human behaviour.

In Germany, the Parliament exercises control over its official development aid mainly through the budget – every law student’s prime example of a German statute only in form but with no material conditions (“formelles, aber nicht materielles Gesetz”) ...

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