The MARGISTAR Method: Pinching policymakers towards better choices

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Juha Hiedanpää, Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE)

In recent years, the concept of ‘nudging’ the citizen has gained traction as a powerful tool for promoting positive behavioural change and achieving policy goals. The concept relies on behavioural psychology to encourage individuals to make decisions that are in line with desired outcomes. But why focus only on citizens? Policymakers also require motivation and commitment to act on pressing economic, environmental, and social issues. This calls for ‘pinching.’ Read on to learn what nudging citizens and pinching policymakers entails.

What is “nudging citizens”?

Nudging the citizen refers to the use of subtle cues and prompts to encourage citizens to make choices that align with external long-term goals. It is based on Thaler and Sunstein’s 2008 book, ‘Nudge‘, and was popularised by its use in the Cameron and Obama administrations. This approach recognises that individuals often (i) either lack knowledge or are overwhelmed by the volume and complexity of information being presented to them, and (ii) are influenced by unconscious biases and habits. By recognising what individual citizens pay attention and respond to, they can be encouraged to demand and implement positive change. However, what if long-term policy goals are not clearly defined or the citizen’s choice environment diverse enough to become meaningfully nudged? Can the reverse also be true? Can citizens use similar strategies to encourage policymakers to refocus on act?

What is “pinching the policymaker”?

Pinching the policymaker refers to the use of subtle pressure to encourage policymakers and decision-makers to act on specific issues. Pinching in general is derived from the idea of nudging, albeit in a reverse order as it aims to change policymakers’ mindsets towards the initiatives driven by citizens and stakeholders. By creating a sense of urgency or highlighting the potential benefits of implementing desired changes, policymakers can be pinched into acting on important issues. Often the importance of developmental issue is acknowledged, but the final reason, motivation, and commitment to act on it is missing. Pinching help clarify policy goal setting and push forward ground-up initiatives for improved action environments.

In mountainous areas, inhabitants and stakeholders can initiate and propose policy options for policymakers and administrators, and in doing so help orient the decision environment towards improved outcomes and societal impact. For instance, social activists might use pinching strategies to encourage policymakers to pass policies and fund programmes empowering vulnerable groups by highlighting the negative consequences of inaction and framing the issue in terms of public wellbeing and economic prosperity.

Both pinching the policymaker and nudging the citizen rely on similar principles of choice architecture and behavioural change to create subtle incentives and prompts. Both have the potential to further cyclical, sustainable, and co-creative policy towards post-marginalised mountain areas.

What is MARGISTAR? How will MARGISTAR ‘nudge citizens’ and ‘pinch policymakers’?

The MARGISTAR COST Action incorporates 27 countries and more than 100 researchers throughout Europe. It is a co-creative society-science-policy forum that synthesises scientific knowledge surrounding development constraints in mountainous areas. This process not only furthers knowledge sharing between academics, but invites inhabitants, civil society associations, entrepreneurs, administrators, and policymakers to collaboratively catalyse and facilitate transformative change towards post-marginalised mountainous communities.

MARGISTAR will use “pinching” and “nudging” actions by engaging with policymakers and related decision makers active in mountainous areas or, due to the project’s COST Action status, at an EU level. Societal and policy impact will be secured following the so-called CFS Model, based on challenging (C) business-as-usual discourses, facilitating (F) the engagement of young and ITC (Inclusiveness Target Country) researchers, and supporting (S) agricultural, land use, and rural policies.

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The MARGISTAR forum reflects collaboratively on natural, environmental, social, and economic inter-relationships and interactions in mountainous areas, and identifies a range of environmental, social, economic, and political challenges. It enables innovation by co-designing pathways for the transformation of marginalised mountainous areas towards their green, digital and healthy futures.

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