Few may realise that the Nudge Unit has offices in the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France and Singapore. Below we focus on UK’s Nudge Unit. Firstly, some background of the role the Nudge Unit has played during the Covid era before we look at, in particular two, staff members.
Over the last two years, governments, in the United Kingdom and beyond, used subliminal methods to secretly manipulate the public, Laura Dodsworth told American Thought Leaders. In the UK, there’s a government unit dedicated to such activities. It’s colloquially described as the “Nudge Unit.”
Dodsworth is a writer, filmmaker and author of “A State of Fear: How the UK government weaponised fear during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
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The Nudge Unit, officially called the Behavioural Insights Team (“BIT”), was established in the Cabinet Office in 2010 by David Cameron’s government to apply behavioural science to public policy. Now owned partly by the Cabinet Office, by Nesta and by employees, it has operations across the world.
During her interview Dodsworth explained that in May 2020 minutes of a SPI-B meeting were published which were truly an extraordinary insight into the decision making of the government. SPI-B is the Independent Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours which provides psychological and behavioural science advice.
“In this document it said: people might not adhere to the lockdown rules because they understood the risk for their demographic and the sense of perceived threat needed to be raised. Essentially these psychologists and behavioural scientists suggested that people would need to be frightened to follow the lockdown rules. And that, really, sent me off on a journey to understand how fear was weaponised.”
“Nudge” is used as an umbrella term for all types of behavioural psychology from subtle cues to egregious forms such as: fear; shaming; and, encouraging people into collective behaviour, group think and behaving like “the herd,” Dodsworth explained.
“We’ve deviated from acceptable psychological best practice. There are psychologists who wrote to the British Psychologists Society, here in the UK, which very much brushed them off. And they’ve also written to parliament to ask for an enquiry into these behavioural scientists, I’ve done the same thing. Again, brushed off. But I do think ethical codes have been breached,” she said.
“Most of the public do not understand the behavioural psychology techniques that are used on them … We certainly haven’t signed consent forms.
“It’s absolutely wrong for us to be paying our taxation towards activities to shape our behaviour when we’re not aware that it happens. I think we need public inquiries in countries where they have behavioural science units. We need to be consulted, there needs to be a debate about this.
“We’re paying our taxes and government does stuff we know about, we have this transactional relationship, we’re investing our authority, we’re giving them permission to lay down rules because we said ‘yes, we voted for you based on what’s in the manifesto’. Now, as soon as governments start employing subliminal methods to change your behaviour the transactional relationship has changed … so there’s an informed consent angle to this but, not just that, I think it’s fundamentally anti-democratic.”
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Further reading: Laura Dodsworth: How our own government turned us into the most terrified country on earth, Conservative Woman, 28 July 2021
Nudge Unit Staff
Founded in 2010 within the UK Cabinet Office, BIT expanded into a limited company in 2014 and is now partly owned by the Cabinet Office, BIT employees, and British charity Nesta whose “ambitious 10-year strategy aligns [their] efforts behind three innovation missions working to promote a fairer start, a healthy life, and a sustainable future.”
In the meantime, BIT has grown from a seven-person unit at the heart of the UK government to a global social purpose company with offices around the world. The Nudge Unit has 228 staff across 14 offices in the following countries:
- UK, London and Manchester, 127 staff;
- USA, New York and Washington, 50 staff;
- Australia and New Zealand, 18 staff;
- Canada, 8 staff;
- France, 9 staff;
- Singapore, 11 staff; and
- Unknown, 5.
Rob Taylor chairs the Global BIT. His background is in the financial and creative industries, most recently at the Financial Conduct Authority (“FCA”) which regulates the financial services industry in the UK. It is the conduct regulator for around 51,000 financial services firms and financial markets in the UK and the prudential supervisor for 49,000 firms, “setting specific standards for around 18,000 firms.”
He has been with BIT since 2014 and during his time with BIT, in addition to his role at FCA, he has also been:
- Non-Executive Director, East London NHS Foundation Trust (2013 – 2020);
- Chairman, Asset Management Committee, International Organization of Securities Commissions (“IOSCO”) (2016 – 2020);
- Chairman, Truman Brewery, UK (2013 – current); and
- Chairperson, Opennetworks (Pty) Ltd, South Africa (2021 – current). Opennetworks strives to make cutting-edge collaboration technology accessible to business and education.
Prior to taking up his role at BIT he was employed by Merrill Lynch, Societe Generale Private Banking, Coutts, Dresdner Bank Dubai Ltd, Kleinwort Hambros, Sleepio and Congressional Aide to the US House of Representatives.
Essentially apart from his involvement as chairman of Sleepio – a company selling subscriptions for a digital online sleep improvement program featuring proven Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (“CBT”) techniques – Taylor’s background is banking and finance.
Professor David Halpern
Professor David Halpern is a board member of Global BIT and also the Chief Executive. He has led the team since its inception in 2010, initially as part of the Cabinet Office and since 2013, as a partially privatised venture.
The Guardian wrote an article in 2013 based on an interview with Halpern, it stated:
“Halpern’s team, commonly known as the “nudge unit“, was set up by David Cameron more than two years ago to try to change people’s behaviour – or, in the words of the coalition agreement, to “help people to make better choices for themselves”. The theory goes that human behaviour can be influenced by many things, such as a desire to conform, shame, vanity and gentle prompting or “nudging”.
“The 11-strong unit applies research from the field of behavioural economics across government. The approach was made popular by US professor, Richard Thaler, who co-wrote the 2008 book Nudge and is an adviser to the UK team.
“Examples range from altering the wording on tax forms, to changing what happens when you walk into a job centre and giving consumer’s data on their weekly food shopping.
“The team’s work has already led to an extra £200m in income tax being collected by telling late payers on tax forms that most people in their towns had already paid their tax. This increased payment rates by 15 percentage points. Now the team is applying lessons learned from increasing voter turnout in US elections to get Essex jobseekers into work 15%-20% quicker than traditional methods.”
Prior to BIT, Halpern was the first Research Director of the Institute for Government – a charity whose main funder is the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, one of the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts.
And between 2001 and 2007 Halpern was the Chief Analyst at the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, “The Strategy Unit.” A unit established by the then Prime Minister Tony Blair and based in the UK Cabinet Office between 2002 and 2010.
Halpern is a member of the World Economic Forum (“WEF”) and Blair is a WEF Young Global Leader. In 2007 Blair joined the WEF’s foundation board, the WEF’s highest governance body. Sometime before 2016 the foundation board was renamed or replaced by the board of trustees. Blair is no longer a WEF trustee.
Click on the images below to read their profiles on the WEF website.
Further reading on the background to WEF: World Economic Forum: a history and analysis
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