[choice architects] are people who have the responsibility for organizing the context in which people make decisions
A friend of yours, Carolyn, is the director of food services for a large city school system. She is in charge of hundreds of schools, and hundreds of thousands of kids eat in her cafeterias every day. Carolyn has for-mal training in nutrition (a master's degree from the state university), and she is a creative type who likes to think about things in nontraditional ways.
One evening, over a good bottle of wine, she and her friend Adam, a statistically oriented management consultant who has worked with super-market chains, hatched an interesting idea. Without changing any menus, they would run some experiments in her schools to determine whether the way the food is displayed and arranged might influence the choices kids make. Carolyn gave the directors of dozens of school cafeterias specific instructions on how to display the food choices. In some schools the desserts were placed first, in others last, in still others in a separate line. 'Ilk location of various food items was varied from one school to another. In some schools the French fries, but in others the carrot sticks, were at eye level. From his experience in designing supermarket floor plans, Adam suspected that the results would be dramatic. He was right. Simply by re-arranging the cafeteria, Carolyn was able to increase or decrease the consumption of many food items by as much as 25 percent. Carolyn learned a big lesson: school children, like adults, can be greatly influenced by small changes in the context. The influence can be exercised the better or for worse. For example, Carolyn knows that she can increase consumption of healthy foods and decrease consumption of unhealthy ones.
With hundreds of schools to work with, and a team of graduate student volunteers recruited to collect and analyze the data, Carolyn believes that she now has considerable power to influence what kids eat. Carolyn is pondering what to do with her newfound power. Here are some suggestions she has received from her usually sincere but occasionally mischievous friends and coworkers:
- Arrange the food to make the students best off, all things considered.
- Choose the food order at random.
- Try to arrange the food to get the kids to pick the same foods they would choose on their own.
- Maximize the sales of the items from the suppliers that are willing to offer the largest bribes.
- Maximize profits, period.
Carolyn is what we will be calling a choice architect.
A choice architect has the responsibility for organizing the context in which people make decisions.
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