Designing Nudges to Solve Wicked Problems

The American economist Richard Thaler was awarded the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel (otherwise known as the Nobel Prize in Economics) in 2017. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which selects an annual winner, noted in its press release announcing the prize that Thaler was awarded because of his contributions to incorporating “psychologically realistic assumptions into analyses of economic decision-making.” (Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, 2017). In effect, Thaler’s research suggests that people are not always (or ever) rational in the way they make decisions, which is exhibited in the inability to maintain self control in real-world decision making situations. One of the most useful and interesting outcomes of Thaler’s research has been the development of the notion of “nudging”: the idea that with the right queues, the behavior of individuals can be directed by design. Thaler has defined nudges as “small design changes that can markedly affect individual behavior.” (New York Times, 2015) In the first unit of this class we focused on understanding design as a complex endeavor, and developing the foundation of a critical language that we can employ. We talked about design as both a social idea and an individual accomplishment, but also as a deeply situated activity shaped by context. We considered design as a particularly useful tool for understanding and solving the wicked problems that have important implications for the functioning of society. I’ve included a link to a short article from the New York Times on Canvas that was written by Thaler in 2015 (Richard Thaler, “The Power of Nudges For Good and Bad”Preview the document). In the article, he outlines the concept of a nudge and provides a few clear examples of how a well-designed nudge can push people toward certain outcomes. For this assignment, reflect on the idea of a nudge and its relationship to designing solutions to wicked problems, and then devise your own nudge that could help solve a wicked problem. First, identify a particular wicked design problem. It should be a problem that can be related to the Midwest as a locational, environmental, and/or cultural context. Document and describe the wicked problem. State the problem clearly, concisely, and specifically. Simply saying, “My wicked problem is flooding” would not be specific enough. Rather, “How could Ames address the increasing frequency of flooding of the Skunk River?” would be a much clearer and more specific way to state a wicked problem. Second, design your own nudge that could help solve your wicked problem. Document and describe the nudge. Explain what the nudge attempts to accomplish. Provide justification that explains why you think the nudge, if implemented, would be successful. The first section of your paper should include a clear statement of the wicked problem, and include enough background information to allow the reader to understand the problem. The second section of your paper should explain the nudge and include enough description and documentation to allow the reader to understand how it would solve the particular wicked problem you have identified. In preparing your paper, you may wish to consider the following questions: What part of the wicked problem does your nudge respond to? Why do you think your nudge will be useful? What ethical responsibility do you assume in designing a nudge? How might cultural context shape the success or failure of your nudge?? Should the goal of a nudge always be obvious? Why or why not? Be sure that your paper clearly does all of the following: describes a wicked problem, develops a design solution (nudge), and builds a case for that solution. Use evidence from the course readings and other sources to support your claims, but be sure all of your sources are fully (and properly) cited. Format your citations using the Chicago Manual of Style: (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site..

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