About 18 months ago, the NSW Premier's department quietly set up a small team with a unique brief. It was dubbed the "nudge" unit because its goal was to influence people's behaviour using insights drawn from economics and psychology rather than regulation and red tape.
The plan drew on the relatively new discipline of behavioural economics that has challenged traditional assumptions about how consumers, and citizens, behave. Behavioural economists have drawn attention to human biases that cause people to make choices that seem contrary to their best interests.
The theory is that those same biases - such as shame, the desire to conform and even vanity - can also be used to nudge people to make superior choices that save governments and citizens time and money. The approach was made popular by University of Chicago professor Richard Thaler, who co-wrote the 2008 book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness.
The NSW government's new nudge team - or the Behavioural Insights Unit as it's officially known - began a series of trials to find out if the strategy would work in NSW.