Coherence between theory and policy in Nudge and Boost: Is it relevant for evidence-based policy-making?

Daphne Truijens*

*Corresponding author for this work

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1 Citation (Scopus)
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Behavioral policies Nudge and Boost are often advocated as good candidates for evidence-based policy. Nudges present or "frame" options in a way that trigger people's decision-making flaws and steer into the direction of better choices. Nudge aims to do this without changing the options themselves. Boosts also present choices in alternative ways without changing options. However, rather than steering, Boosts are aimed to increase people's competences. Nudge and Boost originated in extensive research programs: the "heuristics-and-biases program" and the "fast-and-frugal heuristics program," respectively. How exactly do Nudge and Boost policies relate to the theories they originated from in the first place? Grune-Yanoff and Hertwig labeled this a question of "theory-policy coherence" and propose to use it for determining the evidence-base of Nudge and Boost. I explore the question: "In how far is theory-policy coherence in Nudge and Boost relevant for evidence-based policymaking?." I argue that the implications of (weaker or stronger) theory-policy coherence are relevant in two ways. First, Grune-Yanoff and Hertwig show that theory-policy coherence between Nudge and Boost and the research programs is not as strong as often assumed. It is crucial for the evidence-based policymaker to realize this. Assuming theory-policy coherence while it does not exist or is weaker than assumed can lead to an incorrect assessment of evidence. Ultimately it can even lead to adoption of policies on false grounds. Second, the concept of theory-policy coherence may assist the policymaker in the search and evaluation of (mechanistic) evidence. However, in order to do so, it is important to consider the limitations of theory-policy coherence. It can neither be employed as the (sole) criterion with which to determine how well-grounded a policy is in theory, nor be the (sole) basis for making comparative evaluations between policies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10434631221093741
Pages (from-to)368-394
Number of pages27
JournalRationality and Society
Issue number3
Early online date25 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - 25 May 2022

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