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School of Social Sciences

What makes people give their time and money to good causes?

Governments and public agencies can use ‘nudges’ to encourage citizens’ civic behaviour

Lady in charity shop
The research considered how people can be encouraged to develop positive civic behaviours such as making charitable donations.

‘Real world’ experiments show that people donate goods, money or their time if they receive the right messages. This helps us to understand how people can be encouraged to make hard choices. Our experiments have raised charitable donations and improved recycling rates, leading to recommendations on ‘nudge’ techniques that now form part of government policy.

Based on the results of eight randomised controlled trials (RCTs), our research has demonstrated effective methods that encourage people to participate in civil activity, from supporting charities to recycling. Our findings and recommendations on appropriate methods for ‘nudging’ citizens to donate their time or money have been incorporated into government policy and guidelines.

The paperback book presenting the research sold out in four weeks and became Bloomsbury’s 46th best selling e-book (out of a catalogue of 5,000) and fifth most popular title in its Bloomsbury Open collection.

Key achievements in field trials

  • 1,000 Manchester households donated 7,000 second hand books to children’s libraries in South Africa through the charity Community HEART. This was fostered through a pledge-drive, alongside the public recognition of individual efforts.
  • Door-to-door canvassing of over 6,500 households raised recycling rates in Old Trafford by 5%.
  • Feedback cards delivered to more than 9,000 homes in Oldham increased participation in food waste recycling by 6%.
  • Participation in an online survey on antisocial youth behaviour and interracial relationships produced improvements in tolerance.

Key policy influence

  • Keynote speech by Greg Clark MP on nudge and Localism and the Big Society in 2010
  • Ongoing dialogue with Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) on how to implement localism and decentralisation policies
  • Dialogue with the Government’s Behavioural Insights Team, as they deploy successful methodologies on a wider scale

Key quote

The research: “has given me even greater appetite to understand more about the behaviour and motivations of our citizens. I hope that the teams in Manchester and Southampton... are keen to be part of this learning process. We are all at the leading edge and… champions for localism…” (Rt. Hon. Greg Clark MP)

Our research

The research considered how people can be encouraged to develop positive civic behaviours such as making charitable donations, paying fines and taxes, engaging with local authorities or volunteering their time for community groups or social action. 
The project used a variety of methods, including randomised controlled trials (RCTs) to test different mechanisms and measure their effectiveness in persuading citizens to change civic behaviours and attitudes.

Key findings

  • Shifts in behaviour varied depending on the subject matter and the ‘nudge’ methods used
  • ‘Nudging’ uses cues, feedback or social incentives to change behaviour, but citizens can also be given opportunities to ‘think’ and reflect upon key social problems before action is taken
  • Governments and associated agencies must customise the messages they convey to citizens in each specific case, so as to ensure they nudge them towards a desired outcome

Key people

Further information