Designing behavioural nudges and exploring the role of Public Service Ethics and Integrity Champions as Choice Architects

May 2, 2023

Corruption and lack of transparency have been a major concern with regard to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 16, which seeks to promote peace, justice, and strong institutions. To address this challenge, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Namibia Accelerator Lab has been working with the Public Service using innovative approaches to identify and scale up solutions that can help enhance integrity and promote accountable institutions. 

Working with the Ethics and Integrity Unit under the Office of the Prime Minister, the Accelerator Lab Namibia is exploring creative and diverse approaches which are drawn from several other labs around the world to tackle complex development issues, including corruption and governance, and to ensure that the SDGs are realized by 2030. In this blog, we will explore how the UNDP Accelerator Lab is working with different, small-scale projects to enhance integrity to promote the achievement of SDG 16.

We have been on a year-long journey with this team from the Office of the Prime Minister where we introduced sensemaking, collective intelligence as well as the use of digital tools to improve data collection. This time around, the Lab was invited for an afternoon session with the 350 integrity champions at the first annual Integrity Workshop to share the use of behavioural insights, choice architecture and designing nudges. 

As we prepared for the session in the lead-up to the workshop where we planned to design behavioural nudges we couldn't help but reflect on the important role that public service ethics and integrity champions play as choice architects. The afternoon's discussion centered around the concept of choice architecture and how it can be used to influence behaviour in a positive way. Choice architecture is the idea that the way choices are presented to individuals can have a significant impact on their decision-making. By altering the environment in which choices are made, we can nudge individuals towards making better decisions without limiting their freedom of choice.

Behavioural nudges, on the other hand, are tools or approaches that we can use to achieve this goal. Nudges, on the other hand, are subtle cues or prompts that influence people's behaviour in a particular direction without restricting their freedom of choice. For example, the order in which a candidate’s place is on a voter’s ballot card, could nudge or influence people towards voting for the top candidates.

In using this example, we acknowledge that the people designing these nudges are guided by strong ethical principles. This is where public service ethics and integrity champions come in. Ethics and integrity champions are individuals from the public service, which also include regional councils. They have been nominated and appointed by their respective Executive Directors or Accounting Officers and are responsible for promoting ethical behaviour and upholding integrity within their organizations. Together, the Integrity Champions constitute a committee of multi-disciplinary individuals who have a deep understanding of the ethical considerations involved in decision-making and are committed to upholding high standards of integrity in public service. They are responsible for ensuring that all public servants are aware of the ethical implications of their decisions and are equipped to make decisions that align with the values and principles of the Public Service Code of Conduct. In addition, they are expected to serve as role models for their colleagues and are responsible for ensuring that ethical considerations are considered in all decision-making processes.

As we discussed the role of ethics and integrity champions in choice architecture, it became clear that they are essential in ensuring that the nudges that are designed, are ethical and aligned with the values of the Public Service.  As choice architects, ethics and integrity champions have a unique role to play in designing behavioural nudges. For example, if a public sector organisation is trying to encourage employees to report unethical behaviours such as late coming, the ethics and integrity committee could design a nudge that emphasizes the importance of speaking up and reporting unethical behavior. This could include putting up posters in common areas that highlight the benefits of reporting wrongdoing or reminders during meetings or training sessions that encourage public servants to speak up if they witness unethical behaviors.

During our session, we also discussed the controversy around how nudges can also be used in unethical ways. For example, a nudge that encourages employees to work overtime or take on additional responsibilities without proper compensation could be seen as exploiting employees' desire to be seen as hardworking and dedicated. This is where ethics and integrity champions must be especially vigilant. 

As part of designing nudges, ethics and integrity champions also have a responsibility to monitor the effectiveness of these nudges and adjust as necessary. They need to collect data and gather feedback from employees to make changes based on this feedback. For example, if a nudge that was intended to encourage employees to report wrongdoing is not having the desired effect, ethics and integrity champions might need to adjust the nudge or explore other options for promoting ethical behaviours.

In designing behavioural nudges, ethics and integrity champions are guided by a set of principles that reflect the values of the Namibian Public Service Charter. The ten principles include promoting transparency, accountability, consultation, participation, and courtesy and helpfulness.

For example, a nudge that is designed to encourage employees to work longer hours might be seen as promoting transparency if it clearly communicates the expectations around work hours and compensation. It could promote accountability if it holds managers responsible for ensuring that employees are properly compensated for their extra work. It could promote fairness if it ensures that all employees are compensated fairly for their work, regardless of their position or level of seniority. Finally, it could promote respect for others if it recognises the importance of work-life balance and respects employees' right to rest and relaxation.

With the Accelerator Labs renewed focus on adding value and insights to our partners, Accelerator Lab Namibia will be embarking on a new learning journey to explore and test the use of designing behavioural nudges as important tools for promoting ethical behaviour in the public service. We realise that this may be a complex task, and designing nudges alone are not enough. We will draw on the strength of the Accelerator Lab Network and our Labs in BelarusEthiopiaLebanonMalaysiaNorth MacedoniaSouth AfricaTurkey, and others   who have already made headway in using behavioural insights to assist us. Equally, we also need strong ethics and integrity champions who can guide the design of these nudges in a way that promotes ethical behaviour and upholds the Code of Conduct and the principles of the Public Service Charter.