The author is the executive director of Nesta, an innovation foundation, which has acquired the Behavioral Insights Team.
Social scientists are best known for their “nudges”, either simply registering for pensions or sending out reminders to inform us that most people pay their taxes on time. Since the establishment of the UK government’s Behavioral Insights Team (BIT), also known as the nudge unit, in 2010, these narrow forms have hidden the breadth and depth of what global ethics can offer. But globally, Covid’s successes have demonstrated what, when used properly, moral awareness can.
Along with the release of the vaccine, we have strongly controlled the virus with behavioral restrictions, although not always appropriate. At the beginning of the epidemic, wearing masks was frustrated, testing was discontinued and fresh air was neglected. The strong emphasis on hand washing creates a mental picture of how the virus spreads that was difficult to eradicate.
As understanding changed and public health policies became increasingly difficult, ethical scientists were placed in port. The idea that citizens would not tolerate long-term restrictions – so-called “moral exhaustion” – was. is criticized for delaying lockdown. But this clear fear did not come from moral scientists or the nudgery group. Covid was an unprecedented case and there was no conclusive evidence to substantiate any strong allegations.
When ethics participated in the response phase of the epidemic, the results were positive. More than 50 online tests was conducted by BIT to identify information that effectively helps citizens make decisions. A major trial was conducted, which affected more than 2 million people, testing a message that significantly increased vaccination.
In the UK, there was a lot of interest in communication. Ethical science should embrace all available tools, from legal and promotional to social networking and design. Most importantly, it starts with understanding the amount of behavioral change that is needed, and then managing the size of the process.
Some countries did very well. South Korea adopted a policy of simplicity and reform of the environment. When people were allowed to go to the beach, their temperature was reduced and they had a place far from people. In Bangladesh, masks are provided free of charge in mosques, markets and straight home. Videos and brochures were advertised, accompanied by encouragement from religious leaders, health workers in public places to remind people to use them. A case plus more than 340,000 people in 600 villages found positive results. Thirteen percent of the population wore masks in the ruling village but 42 percent did so in villages seeking redress.
Covid has also demonstrated the power of human nature, another tool used by social scientists. Staying away from people or wearing a mask can be self-inflicted or through coercive means. But they often grow in support of our desire to follow the values of others. It is therefore necessary if political leaders are to be seen face to face in a hospital or parliament. Following the rules has a greater impact on the culture of sharing than on risk calculations. Wearing a mask was a visible sign, and it served as a great symbol for the citizens to care for: great attention should be paid to removing what was given.
We have also had a picture of how moral science can change. Machine learning can now help us to process information, to a large extent, in groups or individually. Government activities can lead to the right direction. Ideas from BIT, which have now become a Nesta company, suggests that daily exposure to isolated groups, for example, could lead to conflict in some groups but not others.
Covid demonstrates the importance of service delivery in a way that is characterized by a better understanding of human values. This is one way that the plague is far from over. Whether dealing with yields, climate change or reducing crime and disease, helping citizens make better decisions and developing a variety of habits is important and feasible. A recent comments more than 126 randomized trials in the US, showed that the average result of nudges was 8.1 percent and that 60 percent of the answers could be given at zero marginal value.
“Shaking” is simple, inexpensive, and effective; government policies often cost a lot of money on unverified or ineffective programs. In order to have a greater influence, we must use all the tools and techniques that are within the range. Whether we use social power, reshape our operations, or use data science to obtain accuracy, ethics can do a tremendous job.