Imagine planning city streets so that the citizens would stop littering. Not by forcing them, nor by charging substantial fines, but simply by painting a few footprints on to the pavement towards each litterbin. This is called nudging. A kind suggestion, which gets people to change their behaviour, in a positive direction.
This is what the city of Copenhagen started implementing in 2011. An experiment led by the behavioural scientist Pelle G. Hansen from Roskilde University looked at how they could reduce the littering in the streets of the city.
In an experiment, wrapped caramels were being handed out to pedestrians in order to track the usage of the litterbins. The wrappers ended up in bicycle baskets, on the street, and some in the litterbins. However, the usage of the litterbins was not of a satisfactory level.
They then improved standards by painting a few footprints on to the pavement pointing towards each litterbin, and repeated the experiment. The result was a startling 46% increase in the usage of the litterbins.
6 years later, the painted footprints and an additional motivational poster around the litterbins are now a common thing in Copenhagen.
By using behavioural insights you can change the behaviour of citizens, and you can change behaviour without forcing people, explained Christian Günther-Hanssen, founder of the Swedish company Cogito Credo.
Helsingborg, Sweden saw the positive effects of the nudging-litterbin experiment and chose to do a similar implementation of their own. Using red coloured footprints and adding a red circle around the actual litterbin, as well as having a motivational poster around the bin which said that 7 out of 10 people use the street bins, has created a greater awareness of the issue.
Sweden does not often test after implement nudging experiments, so they don’t know the real effect of it. They look at what has worked in other countries and then copy and implement it.
“Where Denmark has succeeded, Sweden is starting to pick up” Günther-Hanssen says. He thinks that Sweden can learn a lot from Denmark and he is excited for the future.
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