Conference Overview


Dear WINK – The Nudge Conference participants,

Nudge is a buzz word. All over the world, scientists, professionals and policy makers alike are talking about nudges and designing experiments to examine how small changes in choice architecture can make the life of many people a bit easier and help them to achieve what they consider important in their lives. Even people who are not so fond of nudges are talking about nudges all the time. The concept of nudges seems to elicit strong opinions: you love them or you hate them. And unfortunately these opinions are not always backed up by solid information. Some time ago I was called by a consultant who was planning to develop a course on nudges and who wanted some advice. When I suggested that he should of course read Thaler and Sunstein’s seminal book, he asked me “who are these guys?”.

Given strong opinions and a lack of serious discussion in some settings it was a great pleasure to convene with 300 people who are committed to the concept of nudges but not afraid to debate its theoretical underpinnings, the underlying mechanisms, the political implications, and the practicalities of implementation. It was great fun to meet and talk with all of you for two days, and listen to your presentations, your ingenious questions, your smart observations, and – most of all – your open minded way of discussing this promising and innovative way to change people’s behaviors by smart policies and interventions. It was a wonderful experience to see so many people from various disciplines and backgrounds trying to connect with each other.

We ourselves were very inspired, as most of you were, by the brilliant lectures of our three keynote speakers. David Halpern pointing out that nudges are not only effective communication tools for governments but that they are also nicer. Luc Bovens reminding us that even though nudges in general may support people in achieving their goals, it is important to distinguish between goals for doing something and goals for becoming a particular person, or as Luc put it “is wanting something like wanting to quit smoking or like wanting to be a Buddhist monk while having a beer in front of the telly after a hard day’s work?”. And Dan Ariely talking about irrational thinking while effectively using the recency heuristic: we will never forget the story about the 70 year old man boasting about his sexual adventure with young twin sisters by confessing to a priest.

Now that the conference has finished, we have posted some souvenirs at the website including some pictures and the Flatland drawings. We have also included some impressions of the conference written by a number of committed participants, as well as some quotes or remarkable statements. Enjoy!

Many people have asked us whether there will be another WINK conference. We will consider this option and let you know in due time. In the meanwhile you can join our international Linked In group WINK The Nudge Network * to stay connected with people you met during the conference and post any question, article, request for collaboration, or whatever you may find meaningful to share.

Thanks for your contributions to the conference, it was an amazing experience!


Denise de Ridder
On behalf of the whole WINK team


*  WINK The Nudge Network is a network for any researcher, professional or policy maker with an interest in questions relating to how behavioral insights contribute to effective policy making. We encourage members to exchange academic and practical insights, to bring up relevant questions about how policy making may use behavioral insights, and to share upcoming events that may be of interest to this community.


Conference Quotes

Dan Ariely

In the end, is a nudge not a good way to help ordinary people a bit more instead of pointing their irrational weaknesses over and over again?

Luc Bovens

Is wanting something like wanting to quit smoking or like wanting to be a Buddhist monk while having a beer in front of the telly after a hard day’s work?

Dan Ariely proposing an intriguing new nudge

When you don’t manage to stick to your personal health regime you will lose your favorite app from your phone (for a day or so)

David Halpern

Personalizing communications from government is not only more effective but it is also nicer

Robert Madelin

Accusations of paternalism = complacent conservatism: There is no design-free world. Accusations of inefficacy = reactionary interventionism: If the old ways worked, we would know by now.

David Halpern

You just don’t know until you test




From ‘either-or’ to ‘and’: WINK conference truly connects science and society

In June I visited WINK – The nudge conference at Utrecht University. It was an extremely well-organized conference at a beautiful location. However, this is not what I will remember most about this conference. For me, the most striking fact was that there was a real connection between science and society. Many conferences I have visited are what I would call ‘either-or’ conferences. Either they are focused on science, or they are tailored towards society. This was the first ‘and’ conference: it was truly inspiring for both science and society. Inspirational directors like David Halpern – chief executive from the Behavioral Insights Team UK – presented a keynote, as well as a academics like Dan Ariely – a famous professor from Duke University. Science and society also collaborated during workshops. In my own workshop – on nudges in government – the audience consisted of among else consultants from Portugal, policy advisors from Ministries and municipalities and academics from various universities. What they all shared was a keen interest in how behavioral science can be applied to tackle societal problems. I would love to see more of these connections during the coming years. The WINK conference showed that we can move from ‘either-or’ conferences to ‘and’ conferences, where science and society connect.

Lars Tummers, Associate Professor School of Governance at Utrecht University


Perfect blend

It was a perfect blend of scholars and scientists, policy makers, and all kinds of professionals, all with a shared interest in the concept of nudging! The presentations were of a great quality, varying in the angle, the depth of analysis, and amount of public publications. I especially loved the keynotes. All three speakers were very engaging, and their stories inspiring. The conference was very well organized, in a beautiful academic venue that stimulated a lot of mingling and conversation. I left the conference with new ideas and a much broader perspective on the field of nudging in terms of research, policy, and implementation!

Marleen Gillebaart, Assistant Professor Department of Psychology at Utrecht University


Truly pleasant experience

The WINK conference was a truly pleasant experience for two reasons. For one, both the audience and the program were a perfect melting pot. Researchers with a background in psychology, economics, governance and law gave their view on nudging. Next to this there were also many presentations from practitioners from both central and local government. Second, this meant that the conference was a great networking event. This made the coffee and lunch breaks, apart from the beautiful surrounding, as interesting as the sessions themselves.

Thomas Dirkmaat, Coordinator Behavioral Insights Team at Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs


An inspiring conference

To begin with, the WINK keynote presentations were inspiring and complemented each other well: David Halpern provided a spirited pitch for the relevance of key principles of nudging; Luc Bovens provided what I thought was an exemplary analysis of the ethical issues that arise in concrete cases of policy initiatives that employ principles from behavioral science, and that there are significant concerns to be raised, even with something so seemly unobjectionable as encouraging charitable donations. And Dan Ariely rounded things off with an inspiring display of his creativity in experimental design. The parallel sessions’ diversity of topics offered a good overview of the terrific diversity of approaches in this emerging field. I was particularly pleased so see so many nuanced discussion of ethics and values, including issues of transparency, (inter)cultural legitimacy, democratic justification, and the respectful enhancement of autonomy. The organization was a well-oiled machine (e.g., color-coded tickets and matching signs for the sessions), and their capacities for behavioral control ensured that none of the sessions ran over or started late. When I’m engrossed in conversation during a reception, I appreciate a good punctuality nudge.  Moreover, the choice architecture of dinner was perfect: rather than being exposed to the decision-fatiguing temptations of a buffet, the vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes were brought to us as we sat in the exquisite, sun-drenched architecture of the Cathedral’s cloisters. Altogether a thoroughly enjoyable and inspiring conference. Thanks again to the organizers!

Joel Anderson, researcher-lecturer in the Practical Philosophy group of the Department of Philosophy at Utrecht University


All connected to behavioral knowledge

June 23rd 2017 – The fact that the sun was shining, was a helpful nudge. And even more so was the great atmosphere of the ‘Dom’ of Utrecht. In these circumstances, sharing knowledge becomes even more pleasant. Especially when you can meet such a diverse crowd of interesting people! Academics and practitioners, ‘knowledge brokers’ and ‘connectors’, ‘designers’ and ‘developers’. The variety in expertise was great, and more importantly, they knew how to find each other and speak the same language: all connected to behavioral knowledge. So, it was fun. But there was more going on than just fun, talks and meetings. There was serious work to be done in the workshops. Although the sun was firing up the temperatures, the discussion was still fresh and energetic. The participants did not just come to listen, as I experienced in my workshop. They enthusiastically joined in with their own knowledge and expertise. This even led to the outcome that five different solutions were offered for the problem of climate change in only 20 minutes. All with a big wink of course. But the work and commitment that was displayed, and the concern about the topics we discussed, made clear that the use of behavioral insight is not just fun, it is mandatory fun. Building policy around people, creating conditions and eliminating boundaries for them to help achieve social goals, is a necessary fun thing to do. So, looking back, I’m happy that this was all foreseen in the design of the Dom, as a nudge avant la lettre.

Jorren Scherpenisse, Netherlands School of Public Governance


Storify Impression by Karen Hitters

 Participant Karen Hitters has made a great overview of the conference with the app Storify. Click on the link below to visit it.

Show Karen’s Impression