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Choice architecture at Boston KM Forum

The monthly "first Friday" breakfast meeting of KM Forum had another discussion of "decision making" today, but this time focused on creating the environments for people to make "the right" decisions and choices: Choice Architecture: Another Take on Decision-making.  The general idea is that everything humans interact with affects how they make decisions.  We (as designers) have to take human behavior into account.

The primary source of starting materials is research from Richard Thaler, Cass Sunstein, and John Balz that has been published as Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness or as articles like Choice Architecture.  They've been mentioned on NPR a number of times.  I couldn't find the recent book review for Nudge, but there was a discussion on Robert Krulwich's science segment a year ago, There's a Fly in My Urinal.  To give a sense for the material, here is the abstract to the Choice Architecture article:

Decision makers do not make choices in a vacuum. They make them in an environment where many features, noticed and unnoticed, can influence their decisions. The person who creates that environment is, in our terminology, a choice architect. In this paper we analyze some of the tools that are available to choice architects. Our goal is to show how choice architecture can be used to help nudge people to make better choices (as judged by themselves) without forcing certain outcomes upon anyone, a philosophy we call libertarian paternalism. The tools we highlight are: defaults, expecting error, understanding mappings, giving feedback, structuring complex choices, and creating incentives.

Flipping through this article and listening to the other materials, I couldn't help but make connections to other ideas I've been absorbing lately.  Dave Snowden mentions an example in his talks where long-haul truckers make some of their biggest mistakes in the few minutes that they change between driving and dealing with unloading the truck.  A simple change in their environment (making them wear different clothing - a belt), caused the number of accidents to drop significantly.  And there were a number of examples in Chip and Dan Heath's Switch (my review) that have to do with changing how people see and experience things in order to effect changes in behavior. 

One of the references I found led me to Mathieu Lehanneur's TED talk on science-inspired design, which has a bunch of examples of objects that he has designed to help people change their behavior.  It's interesting to see how he combines beautiful design with insights from scientific studies about how people respond to stimuli.

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

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