By Stanford University

April 15th, 2019

When the “nudge” first appeared on the policymaking scene, it struck many as an ideal tool. Unlike traditional interventions aiming to improve people’s behavior, a nudge is low-cost, non-coercive, and less likely to have unintended consequences. More than a decade later, though, nudge enthusiasts readily admit that designing an effective nudge isn’t easy.

Take¬†citizenship, for example. Most immigrants in the United States, when asked, say they want to become citizens, yet naturalization rates are surprisingly low compared to those of other Western countries. Many organizations devote themselves to promoting citizenship, especially among low-income immigrants, but they can’t say for sure whether their campaigns are actually working.

It’s just the sort of social pattern where a nudge could make a big difference, if done right. And according to a new study from the Immigration Policy Lab (IPL) at Stanford University, the answer turns out to be the gentlest kind of nudge: simple, well-placed information.

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