The Government of India’s use of nudge theory in the first three months of the pandemic helped to tackle the virus on numerous fronts, a new study suggests.
India has reported nearly five million COVID-19 cases and well over 80,000 deaths (as of 16 September 2020), making the country one of the worst hit in the world. But an even greater tragedy may have unfolded had India’s government not used nudge theory to maintain one of the world’s strictest and longest lockdowns in the first quarter of the year. This is the view of a new study by Ramit Debnath and Dr. Ronita Bardhan from Cambridge’s Behavior and Building Performance Group, Department of Architecture.
Using machine learning and AI-based algorithms to analyze almost 400 government press releases, they show how India nudged across 14 key policy areas to influence the behavior of 1.3 billion people, including government employees, scientists, health professionals, manufacturers, food suppliers and students to help fight COVID-19. The researchers argue that nudges from India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, were particularly important in creating herd effect on lockdown and social distancing norms across the nation.
The study, published in PLoS ONE, found that the government deployed nudge techniques to tackle a wide range of urgent challenges between 15 January and 14 April 2020. Nudging is a design-based public policy approach which uses positive and negative reinforcements to modify the behavior of a population.
In January and February, policy nudges were focused on evaluating the risk of incoming travelers from China and extending surveillance at international airports. But the narrative soon shifted to address other pressing concerns. By March, nudges sought to impose new restrictions on travel, discouraging people from visiting crowded and public spaces, and strict social distancing. On 24 March, Modi