Assessing Nudge Scalability: Two Lessons from Large-scale RCTs
80 Pages Posted: 20 Jan 2022 Last revised: 7 Mar 2022
Date Written: March 5, 2022
Field experimentation and behavioral science have the potential to inform policy. Yet, many initially promising ideas show substantially lower efficacy at scale, reflecting the broader issue of the instability of scientific findings. Here, we identify two important factors that can explain variation in estimated intervention efficacy across evaluations and help policymakers better predict behavioral responses to interventions in their settings. To do so, we leverage data from (1) two randomized controlled trials (RCTs; N=187,134 and 149,720) that we conducted to nudge COVID-19 vaccinations, and (2) 111 nudge RCTs involving approximately 22 million people that were conducted by either academics or a government agency. Across those datasets, we find that nudges' estimated efficacy is higher when outcomes are more narrowly (vs. broadly) defined and measured over a shorter (vs. longer) horizon, which can partially explain why nudges evaluated by academics show substantially larger effect sizes than nudges evaluated at scale by the government agency. Further, we show that nudges' impact is smaller among individuals with low baseline motivation to act---a finding that is masked when only focusing on average effects. Altogether, we highlight that considering how intervention effectiveness is measured and who is nudged is critical to reconciling differences in effect sizes across evaluations and assessing the scalability of empirical findings.
Funding: Funding support for this research was provided by UCLA Health.
Declaration of Interests: The authors declare no competing interests. The authors did not receive financial or non-financial benefits from UCLA Health or speaking/consulting fees related to any of the interventions presented here.
Ethics Approval Statement: Our randomized control trials (RCTs) that promoted COVID-19 vaccine uptake were reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the University of California, Los Angeles, which determined that a waiver of informed consent was appropriate.
Trial Registration: clinicaltrials.gov numbers: NCT04800965 and NCT04801524.
Keywords: Randomized controlled trials, Science policy, Nudge, Scalability, COVID-19, Vaccinations
JEL Classification: C93, I12
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation