Leveraging behavioral insights to mitigate public procurement corruption in Nigeria

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Executive summary

Behavioral science is concerned with understanding how humans act in different fields, providing insight into the way people make decisions. These insights may be used to design and implement public policy tools to (positively) influence human behavior. In relation to addressing corruption, behavioral insights may inform effective anti-corruption interventions that encourage ethical decisions and practices. These interventions may include “nudges,” which are small manipulations in the way choices are presented that can inspire people to make better choices.

This policy brief seeks to examine how nudges have been used in the public sector within African and other developing countries to understand the opportunities that these tools present for improving decisionmaking, addressing fraud and corruption, and instilling integrity in public procurement in Nigeria. The brief highlights that nudges require a low effort and low cognitive cost from individuals to choose the preferred action and should remove (as far as possible) any friction towards making the preferred choice. In other words, nudges create a path of least resistance and do not require significant expenditure of time, money, or thought from individuals to make the preferred choice.

The brief also highlights that nudges are not a panacea for all social issues and may fail in cases where there are strong contrary preferences, where there is the existence of counter-nudges, or where nudges are implemented in a manner that is not targeted or specific. Nudges may also fail where the challenges that nudges seek to overcome are structural and not behavioral. The use of nudges has also been criticized for its paternalistic approach to governance and several writers have decried the ethics of the subtle manipulation tactics that are inherent in their use.

The brief illustrates that in relation to addressing corruption and fraud generally, nudges have been used in different contexts with reasonable success. The brief examines the use of nudges to reduce unemployment benefits fraud in New Mexico, the use of nudges to reduce bribery in South Africa, and the use of nudges to increase tax compliance and reduce tax evasion in Rwanda. In examining these countries, the brief highlights that it is possible to utilize nudges to address ethical issues, even in countries with significant challenges with corruption and fraud.

The brief distills some lessons from these country case studies which will be helpful for the design and implementation of nudges in the Nigerian procurement context. These lessons are as follows: First, the need to understand the problem that nudges seek to address and determining if nudges are suitable in a particular context. Second, policymakers must appreciate the level of research, testing, and refinement that implementing nudges requires. Third, the successful adoption of nudges requires consistent evaluation of their efficacy and an awareness that different kinds of nudges may have different effects. Finally, for sustainability, ownership of the intervention must be taken by the government agency concerned.

The brief also makes the following policy recommendations for implementing nudges in Nigeria:

  1. Framing and awareness of the issues targeted: Procurement regulators should determine if nudges are suitable in the procurement context. Thus, procurement regulators in the states and at the federal level should engage with researchers and practitioners to explore what aspects of the procurement process can benefit from nudges. In public procurement, corruption is a big issue, but this corruption manifests in different ways and it will thus be important to understand which kind of corrupt behavior is being targeted with nudges and at what stage of the procurement process the intervention is most likely to be effective.
  2. Design phase: Procurement regulators should find suitable partners to design appropriate nudges. In designing nudges, the research has shown that they need to be simple, evidence-based and piloted. The design stage must also consider any unintended consequences and be tailored to the context and the relevant audience. The design phase must also include extensive testing and iteration to ensure that the messaging or approach chosen is one that will lead to positive behavioral changes.
  3. Scaling and adoption: After the design phase, procurement regulators must ensure that they gain the support of relevant implementing stakeholders. The effectiveness of the nudges should be tracked and adjusted if necessary. The entire process should also be documented to inform future interventions and provide guidance for other regulators.


Behavioral science is concerned with understanding how humans act in different fields and systems. It provides insight into the way people make decisions, and this insight may be used to design and implement public policy tools to positively influence human behavior. In relation to understanding and addressing corruption, behavioral science may generate insights into human behavior which may inform novel and effective anti-corruption interventions that encourage ethical decisions and practices. These interventions may include incentives, regulation, and “nudges.”

Nudges were popularized by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in a groundbreaking book published in 2008. Nudges are small manipulations of the choices people are faced with in daily life, that can motivate people to make better decisions. Nudges focus on small changes to the features of the choices presented (referred to by Thaler and Sunstein as the “choice architecture”) such that these changes steer individuals towards certain “preferred” decisions.

A review of the use of nudges across 23 countries highlights that nudge tools such as text messages, brief pre-work quizzes, and other low-touch interventions have been effective in different contexts to promote the public interest. Nudges are also used in supporting integrity and have shown early promise in inspiring ethical decisionmaking and discouraging bribery.

It is now accepted that corruption is a “multifaceted phenomenon transcending economic incentives” and as such requires complex and nuanced approaches to addressing it that consider the relevance of fields such as economics, law, political science, and psychology. In Nigeria, as in many other countries, the public procurement system accounts for a large proportion of corrupt transactions and is thus the focus of many anti-corruption measures and interventions. These interventions often take the form of measures designed to prevent, detect, deter, and punish corruption. In countries like Nigeria, which struggle with systemic corruption, it has been seen that anti-corruption measures are often ineffective because they require implementation by the machinery of state, which is often also corrupt.  As such, in countries with systemic corruption, or countries that struggle with adherence to the rule of law or struggle with implementing strict governance and accountability mechanisms, behavioral science offers an additional means of mitigating public procurement corruption.

This policy brief seeks to examine how behavioral tools (in the form of nudges) have been used by the public sector in African and other developing countries, and by so doing, understand the opportunities that these tools present for improving decisionmaking, addressing fraud and corruption, and instilling integrity in public procurement in Nigeria. The brief provides an overview of the main definitions, concepts, and challenges with the use of nudges. The brief further provides an explanation of the relationship between behavioral insights and procurement corruption and presents a review of case studies on the use of behavioral tools in the state of New Mexico in the U.S. and two developing countries—South Africa and Rwanda—focusing on measures adopted to address corruption and fraud. The brief concludes with an assessment of how these measures may be useful in the context of addressing public procurement corruption in Nigeria and provides policy recommendations for integrating nudges into the procurement system in Nigeria.

Definitions and concepts

There have been several definitions offered of nudges since the term was popularized by Thaler and Sunstein in 2008. In their book, they defined a nudge as “any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. To count as a mere nudge, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. Nudges are not mandates. Putting fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not.”

A later definition offered by Thaler states that nudges are “approaches that steer people in particular directions, but that also allow them to go their own way.” Halpern describes a nudge as “a means of encouraging or guiding behavior but without mandating or instructing, and ideally without the need for heavy financial incentives or sanctions.” Sunstein also re-defined a nudge as “an initiative that affects people’s behavior without imposing significant material burdens or offering significant material benefits.”

The OECD defines a nudge as “a subtle change in the way a decision presents itself to help individuals make a better choice for their own benefit.” Meyer and Page describe nudges as “interventions that guide, rather than mandate, individuals to act in a certain way.”

These definitions emphasize that nudges present individuals with preferred choices such that only a low effort and low cognitive cost is required to make the preferred choice. Nudges seek to ensure that individuals take the preferred course of action but may also easily avoid this choice should they prefer. Nudges must eliminate any friction inherent in the direction of the preferred choice and create a path of least resistance towards the preferred action and not require significant expenditure of time, money, or thought from individuals to make the preferred choice. It is this “easy resistibility” of nudges that make them attractive from a public policy viewpoint, as they maintain individual freedom of choice and may be easily countered.

Nudges are supposed to be cost-effective approaches to promote beneficial policies as they do not change economic incentives. Nudges rely on behaviors such as people’s “predictable tendencies to stick to the status quo.” For instance, a common application of nudges are defaults, where individuals have to opt out of a system to increase the number of people who use the system (such as default pension enrollment or default organ donation). Smart designs also take advantage of a bias towards visual influences, making it easier for people to choose healthy food options placed at vantage points in a cafeteria, for instance.

Nudges thus focus on the means for making a choice and not the ends or the actual choices. Nudges fall into two groups—educational and architectural. Educational nudges include warnings, reminders, and disclosure of information, whilst architectural nudges include automatic enrollment, mandatory choice, simplification and design of websites, and forms that highlight certain options.

The concept behind nudges is that they account for the biases, contestations, dissonance, and ambiguities in human decisionmaking, denying the idea that human decisionmaking is a rational process. Nudges can therefore be effective in achieving social goals,  based on knowledge about human motivations and how humans behave in different situations.

The alternative to nudges is bans and mandates that may carry penalties. These are of course more difficult to police or enforce, and in the case of anti-corruption enforcement, are not always effective, especially in countries with a systemic corruption problem.

Challenges with using nudges

Like any kind of intervention, nudges are not without challenges. First of all, it must be understood that nudges are not a magic bullet, suitable for addressing every kind of policy issue, and may be ineffective or problematic in some contexts.

Although nudges have been fairly successful in motivating behavior in various spheres, there are areas where they have failed, often due to strong contrary preferences on the part of the chooser, who will therefore opt out of being nudged, as well as the existence of “counter nudges”, which may move choosers in the opposite (or an unwanted) direction. In other cases, nudges may fail because they are not well-targeted or specific and do not account for other social influences. In other words, careful attention must be given to the choice architecture or the way the choices are presented. Without due regard to the framing of nudges, they could backfire or have adverse unintended consequences. For instance, in relation to anti-corruption nudges, there is evidence suggesting that in Nigeria, untargeted anti-corruption messaging may have unintended consequences—motivating individuals to “go with the corrupt grain” and making it harder for other anti-corruption strategies to succeed.

Nudges may also be ineffective in cases where the challenges faced are structural. For instance, if a procurement market is dominated by cartels, then implementing nudges designed to promote integrity on the part of procurement officials will be ineffective because of the composition of the procurement market. Where nudges are ineffective, have unintended consequences, or fail, implementers must examine the social and structural environment and the reality of existing choices to determine what actions to take. As is discussed further below, extensive testing, refining, and piloting of nudges may mitigate these issues before they arise.

A second challenge with nudges relates to criticisms about the ethical implications of influencing public behavior. The use of nudges undeniably includes an element of manipulation, which critics view as being paternalistic and removing individual freedom of choice. However, as Thaler and Sunstein point out, nudging is inevitable and because nudges do not prohibit particular behavior, but simply make it easier for individuals to make the “better” choice, they believe that freedom of choice is preserved. Thaler and Sunstein argue that coercion and mandates force specific choices in a way that nudges do not and as such, nudges do not risk individual liberties. Other critics argue that using nudges carries a serious risk of expansion, leading to a “slippery slope” where governments move from “soft paternalism to hard.” The argument is that a middle ground presented as a policy option may in time become the standard choice and more intrusive or exacting options presented as the new middle, denying individuals the option to opt out of the intrusive choice. However, whilst the possibility of nudge creep exists in theory, this has not been borne out in recent history in relation to policy decisions around alcohol and marijuana. In relation to anti-corruption measures, nudges do not have the same ethical implications or concerns about potential expansion, given that corruption is illegal and prohibited and nudges used in this area may merely make it easier for individuals to act ethically.

A real ethical challenge with nudges in this case, however, is the possibility that they are designed and used in a way that makes it harder for people to exercise freedom of choice. This is often referred to as sludge and refers to using nudges in a way that makes it harder for persons “to obtain an outcome that will make them better off…” Sludge may mean different things: it could mean a barrier that keeps a nudge from working, or it could refer to intentionally designed framing of choices that prevents people from asserting real freedom of choice. Sludges move people towards “behaviours that are not in their best interests but may benefit a company or government”. Sludge exists when policymakers insert friction into a process in order to achieve their own goals. For instance, it has been documented that voting practices in some U.S. states create voting sludge that disproportionately affects minorities and disenfranchises them. Where sludge is part of an intentional policy design, it may be used to control people’s choices, may be abused by authoritarians and may be oppressive, especially where it disproportionately affects vulnerable groups. One way of avoiding sludges is to ensure that nudges are designed with the input of independent experts and co-created with a wide range of stakeholders including civil society and accountability groups. Nudges must also follow the principles established by Thaler to ensure that it does not operate as a sludge, to public detriment. These principles are that nudges should be transparent and never misleading, it should be easy to opt out of the nudge, and the behavior being encouraged should improve the welfare of those being nudged.

Behavioral insights and procurement corruption

The work of public governance includes regulating human behavior and promoting social welfare. This can be done through mandates and bans, which forbid specific behavior, incentives and disincentives, which motivate for appropriate behavior, and nudges, which steer individuals to make the right choices.

In relation to procurement corruption, governments use all these tools at their disposal. Thus, domestic anti-corruption legislation and codes of conduct are mandates which forbid and punish corrupt behavior; procurement qualification and compliance requirements provide incentives for contractors to behave ethically; and nudges such as anti-corruption posters displayed in most offices and text messages reminders about acceptable social norms may prompt public officials to choose the right course of action during the procurement process.

The use of nudges to motivate for ethical decisionmaking is premised on the idea that in general people want to behave ethically, and targeting this desire may increase the chances that individuals will behave ethically. Nudges support the literature that morality may be fluid in certain contexts, motivating individuals with a more flexible and context-dependent approach to ethics to act in support of integrity.  Nudges endorse an integrity approach that considers individual’s moral reference point, representing the level of integrity that a person considers as acceptable in view of their perception of themselves and the counterbalancing or rationalization that is undertaken when this reference point is deviated from. Nudges also consider that behaving ethically might require more cognitive resources, which creates a kind of friction and nudges seek to reduce this friction.

The goal of nudges is to make it easier for participants in the procurement system to act with integrity and comply with the rules. It preserves individual freedom of choice and avoids the coercive nature of the criminal law, which does not always successfully regulate behavior in relation to public procurement corruption.

The goal of nudges is to make it easier for participants in the procurement system to act with integrity and comply with the rules.

The utility of integrating behavioral insights into an anti-corruption scheme is that it both accounts for social norms and boosts the preventive aspects of anti-corruption, reducing traditional reliance on detection, punishment, and deterrence, which are overly reliant on the criminal justice system, which also has its challenges with corruption and efficacy. Corruption control through detection and punishment may have a perverse impact on intrinsic motivations to act ethically, reducing the efficacy of such measures. Even in systemically corrupt societies, where corruption may be self-reinforcing and there are greater incentives to act corruptly than may be provided by an individual’s moral compass, sustained and incremental anti-corruption measures like nudges may still succeed. Given that the Nigerian state has implemented differing approaches to addressing procurement corruption, some of which have been ineffectual, it is time to determine if a considered approach to nudges, apart from those already in play, may be utilized to improve integrity and reduce corruption in public procurement in Nigeria.

Case studies on the use of nudges in developing countries

This section reviews case studies on the use of nudges in three countries chosen for the availability of case studies that relate to corruption and fraud, the different ways and contexts in which nudges were used and most importantly, the availability of information on the testing of the efficacy of the nudges adopted in those countries.

Curbing unemployment insurance fraud in New Mexico, US

New Mexico is a state in the southwestern part of the United States. It shares a border with Texas and Mexico and had a GDP of US$94.6 billion in 2022. In 2015, New Mexico  successfully relied on a combination of data analytics and nudge messaging to address fraudulent unemployment benefit payments.

The background to this case study can be traced to the global 2009 recession, which increased unemployment and the number of claimants for unemployment benefits. In 2009, it was estimated that across the nation, the U.S. government spent US$7.1 billion on overpayments (when jobseekers obtain employment but continue to claim benefits) and lost US$1.6 billion to fraudulent payments.  To stem these losses, the U.S. government offered grants to states to reduce these improper payments.

The state of New Mexico took advantage of this grant and developed an online system, which integrated employers’ records with benefit applications and cross-matched these with birth and death records. This alone led to a 60% reduction in fraudulent claims between 2012 and 2013.

Alongside the digital upgrade, the government realized that intervening in the application process at the right time could encourage more accurate responses, which could reduce overpayments. From May 2015, individualized pop-up messages appeared in the online application forms that were triggered by fraud-related risks associated with a claimant’s answers in the application. The use of these individualized messages was particularly effective and increased the accuracy of information on benefit eligibility, reducing overpayments and fraud.

The government went a step further to try to reduce the length of time people claimed unemployment benefits by integrating within the application process, requests for information on applicants’ job-seeking plans. It was discovered that applicants that mentioned work goals were 20% more likely to return to work than applicants that didn’t.

This case study demonstrated that the use of nudges may require investment in other areas of governance, such as digitalization, and also requires the involvement of both public and private sector partners, as it was a joint team that developed the ideas and the messaging. New Mexico also tested the nudges in a pilot and refined the messaging several times as it collected information on what combination of words were the most effective. New Mexico also bundled its nudges, which increased the efficacy of the intervention—by focusing on nudges to obtain accurate unemployment information and nudges to jolt claimants into job-seeking.

Reducing bribery in South Africa

South Africa is a country of 59.8 million people with a GDP of US$405 billion in 2022. Corruption, especially public procurement corruption and state capture, has captivated local and international interest and media, following the 2016 release of the “State of Capture” report by the South African Public Protector, which implicated the ex-president Jacob Zuma in corruption and fraud. Following from this report, a Commission of Inquiry was established in 2018 to investigate the Public Protector’s allegations. The reports of the Commission of Inquiry detailed extensive abuses of the public procurement system by politicians and the executive.

Like many countries, nudges have been  used in different contexts in South Africa and are also used to address corruption by promoting integrity, mainly in the form of anti-corruption posters in public spaces. However, the efficacy of these was not tested until 2018, when a team of researchers conducted a field experiment to determine if social nudges on a poster could actually reduce bribery in South Africa.

The researchers distributed posters with descriptive norms messages about bribery in a medium sized town in the KwaZulu Natal province of South Africa. This region was chosen as there had been a decrease in self-reported bribery incidents between 2013 and 2017  in Transparency International’s surveys. The researchers utilized the information about this reduction in bribery to display descriptive information about the decreasing levels of bribery in the area. The information displayed on the posters was dynamic and positive in tone, highlighting that bribery was decreasing in the region. The poster messaging emphasized the descriptive elements about bribery, i.e. its frequency/commonality, and not the injunctive elements such as its acceptability/appropriateness. This approach was adopted as earlier research had highlighted that targeted positive descriptive norms were more effective in addressing corruption, because descriptive norms are more malleable.

The efficacy of the posters was further evaluated through an incentivized laboratory bribery game in which participants received financial rewards for the accuracy of their answers, i.e. participants were rewarded when their assessments about bribery matched that of another randomly selected participant. The incentives thus revealed participants’ actual beliefs about collectively shared views on the frequency and acceptability of bribery as opposed to the participants’ personal judgement of the same.

The poster intervention combined with the incentivized laboratory bribery game affected participants’ belief about the frequency and acceptability of bribery and also affected participants’ willingness to accept bribes in the incentivized bribery game. The findings reveal that verifiable social information about bribery could change beliefs and act as a counter-influence to people’s own experiences. This experiment highlighted that nudging messaging may reduce both the perceptions of and behaviors relating to corruption.

Addressing tax evasion and low tax compliance in Rwanda

Rwanda is a small, landlocked country in eastern Africa with a population of 13.77 million people and a GDP of US$13.31 billion in 2022. Because of its relatively small size and large number of informal businesses, Rwanda has a small tax base and its collection of tax revenues is hampered by low levels of tax compliance and high levels of tax evasion. This is particularly challenging given that COVID-19 exacerbated the country’s revenue needs. There have been two projects which used nudges in Rwanda to address the low level of tax compliance, and both projects showed promising results in increasing tax remittances. This section describes both projects to understand how nudges were used in this context.

Project 1: Tax Compliance using nudge messages

In 2016, the Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA), supported by a group of researchers, sent 9,000 randomly chosen corporate taxpayers messages to improve tax compliance. This intervention was later evaluated by researchers to determine its efficacy. The messages varied by content; some had a deterrence message highlighting the risk of audit and detection, other messages emphasised the fiscal exchange between public services and taxpayer compliance, whilst other messages were a reminder of filing deadlines. Different taxpayers received different messages, and there was a control group that did not receive any message.

To evaluate the efficacy of the messages, the tax self-declarations of the companies were afterwards compared with their historical data. These evaluations found that the “friendlier” messages in the form of reminders about deadlines and information on the fiscal exchange were more effective in boosting compliance than the deterrent messaging. It was found that a taxpayer who received a message about filing reminders declared about RWF 2 million more than a taxpayer in the control group who did not receive any message, representing a 55% increase in tax payments. Overall, the interventions generated US$6 million in additional revenue for the RRA, whilst costing below US$4,000 to implement. The evaluation also found that the deterrence messages were ineffective in increasing tax compliance and in relation to large taxpayers, might have had an adverse effect on tax compliance. Finally, the evaluation found that the impact of these messages was short-lived and had no detectable impact after one year.

Project 2: Tax compliance using visual images

In 2020, a group of researchers developed videos to be shown to taxpayers that could be used to increase tax compliance. To this end, 2,023 small and medium firms were shown two animated films on tax, focussing respectively on deterrence and tax fairness. The taxpayers included firms that were registered for tax but were non-filers, those that reported a zero income (nil-filers) and those that had made a positive tax declaration. The experiment found that amongst smaller firms, deterrence videos increased the perception of audit and detection, leading to a reduction in nil-filers and an increase in the amount of self-reported tax liability. The videos on tax fairness, whilst increasing perceptions on the fairness of the tax system, did not have any impact on tax paying behavior.

The examples from Rwanda highlight first, the importance of buy-in and ownership from the relevant government agency and second, the fact that the intervention must be sustained for long-term impact. The examples also show that when using messages, nudge messaging must be tested and refined to determine the most effective type of message to use, since not all messages will have the same impact.

Lessons learned

As discussed above, nudges have been used to a limited extent in the procurement context in Nigeria, especially in the form of anti-corruption posters, which are posted in many  public spaces. However, the research indicates that these have not been effective and may have had unintended and adverse effects. There are several lessons distilled from the case studies presented above, which may support a more effective approach for using nudges to address public procurement corruption in Nigeria.

The first lesson is that it is important to understand the aim of proposed nudges and whether they are suitable in a particular context. For instance, in the New Mexico case study, the issues that nudges were intended to address were the information asymmetry and data gap on the part of the government and the abuse of this asymmetry by individuals to perpetuate unemployment insurance fraud.

Mayer and Page ask three helpful questions to determine if nudges are appropriate in a particular context. First is there an intention-action gap? In other words, is it clear that individuals want to (or could be motivated to) pursue the nudged activity? If yes, this action is suitable for nudging. Secondly, they ask if the barrier to making the preferred choice is structural? If it is, then nudging may be unable to overcome structural difficulties. Third, they ask if the source of inaction can be clearly identified, in other words, whether the barrier to choosing the preferred action is known. If this barrier is known, then nudges may be customized to overcome the barrier or the source of inaction.  In the public procurement context, officials who have ethical blind spots and are unaware of the potential harms of their unethical decisions will require a different nudge from those who are aware of ethical issues or conflicts of interest but are faced with counter-nudges or strong preferences towards corrupt behavior.

The second lesson to be drawn from the case studies is that the implementation of nudges requires sustained research, advocacy, action, and refinement. Whilst nudges might of themselves be simple tools, the deployment and administration of the tool requires significant investment in terms of research, digitalization, and administration. For instance, in New Mexico, the project occurred over several years, and was a partnership between the public and private sectors who supported with the research, thinking, and refinement of messages. In South Africa, the project relied on earlier research which examined the kinds of norms that were useful in addressing bribery, showing that providing social information about low levels of bribery among peers reduced individuals’  propensity to bribe. This approach can be contrasted with the kinds of posters that are seen in the public sector in Nigeria, which often provide injunctive information about corruption and have not been effective.

The third lesson is that evaluating the efficacy of nudges is important. In all three countries, a post-intervention evaluation provided useful information on which aspects of the nudges were the most effective and best suited for the context. If nudges are going to be adopted in the procurement (or in any other context), there must be an empirical post-mortem to ensure that the nudges are working as designed and that any future scaling will lead to the desired changes in behavior.

The fourth lesson that can be extracted from the three countries is that in general, positive or “friendly” messaging and nudges appear to have a better effect on choices than negative or deterrence messages. However, this is not always the case, and in Rwanda, deterrence messages had a better impact on the taxpaying behavior of small firms than messages about tax equity, whilst deterrence messages had an adverse impact on the behavior of large corporate taxpayers. Appreciating this nuance will be important to the design of nudges in any context. These differences are also consistent with earlier research on the use of anti-corruption posters in Nigeria, which had an adverse effect on corruption and further impacted the efficacy of other anti-corruption measures.

A fifth lesson learned from the case studies is that for sustainability and scale, ownership of the intervention must be taken by the government agency concerned. For instance, in South Africa, the intervention using posters was conducted by a team of researchers and concluded once the team had made their findings. The research from Rwanda has shown that the impact of nudges may be short-lived, so once tested, they must become a permanent feature of the choice infrastructure to ensure the continued benefits. This kind of permanence was seen in New Mexico and Rwanda, where a government agency continued to use the nudges after their development and deployment.

Policy recommendations for implementing nudges in public procurement in Nigeria

This policy brief has shown that nudges have worked in different contexts in the U.S. and in African countries. Based on the case studies and lessons learned, this brief makes the following policy recommendations:

  1. Framing and awareness of the issues targeted: It is important to first determine if nudges are suitable in the procurement context. To do this, procurement regulators at the state and the federal levels in Nigeria should engage with researchers and practitioners that have designed nudge interventions in similar contexts to explore what aspects of the procurement system can benefit from nudges. This will include a consideration of the specific behavior that nudges are proposed to influence, by understanding the intention-action gap and examining what barriers exist to making the preferred (ethical) choice. In public procurement in Nigeria, corruption is a challenge, but this corruption manifests in different ways such as bribery, conflicts of interest, collusive behavior, and political interference. It will thus be important to understand which kind of corrupt behavior could be targeted and is suitable for nudging. It will also be important to understand whether and what aspects of procurement corruption are structural and which aspects are behavioral since nudges may be ineffective to address structural issues. Earlier work on procurement in Nigeria highlighted that some states have taken steps to redesign the procurement process so as to reduce gender inequities in public procurement. This redesign in some cases includes making it easier for procurement officials to consider the award of public contracts to women-owned businesses. There is thus precedent for the design of the procurement process to achieve policy goals in other contexts in Nigeria.
  2. Designing nudges: In designing nudges, the research has shown that they need to be simple, evidence-based, and piloted. Procurement regulators must locate the right partners to support the design and development of nudges. The design stage must tailor nudges to the context and the relevant audience. For instance, in Nigeria, procurement officials at the federal level enjoy a measure of independence, as they are deployed and their careers managed by the procurement regulator. They are thus insulated from adverse consequences should they withstand pressure to act unethically in the workplace. The potential of this independence as an anti-corruption tool may be reinforced using nudge reminders both about their independence and the power and freedom it provides them to act ethically. If procurement officials are targeted, the nudges may focus on the choices they have, reframing those choices in a positive way. The design phase must also include extensive testing and iteration to ensure that the messaging or approach chosen leads to positive behavioral changes. The design phase must also consider the long-term sustainability of the nudges. As was discussed, nudges must be ongoing, otherwise their impact and effect will not be continuous.
  3. Scaling and adoption: After the design phase, procurement regulators must ensure that they gain the support of relevant implementing stakeholders. The effectiveness of the nudges should be tracked and adjusted if necessary. The entire process should also be documented to inform future interventions and provide guidance for other regulators. In Nigeria, scaling should include scaling to state and local government contracting authorities. One consequence of the decentralized nature of procurement in Nigeria is that public attention is often focused on procurement by federal agencies, with insufficient attention being devoted to state and local government agencies. The adoption of nudges should extend to these other spheres of government, given that they account for a large proportion of public spend in Nigeria.

It must be noted that nudges are not a magic bullet, but may be useful in supporting public policy goals and priorities when accompanied by other kinds of interventions and policy tools.


This policy brief explained the meaning and challenges with the adoption of nudges and examined the use of nudges in the state of New Mexico in the U.S. and two developing countries: South Africa and Rwanda. It was seen that nudges provide a useful tool to influence behavior in a way that may mitigate fraud, corruption, and non-compliance in various spheres. The use of nudges as examined in this brief provides lessons that Nigeria can learn from, should there be interest in adopting nudges to address corruption in the public procurement context.

First, we must understand whether nudges are suitable in the procurement context, by understanding the intention-action gap. Second, it must be understood that the implementation of nudges requires significant investment in design and implementation and need research, action, and refinement. Thirdly, it is important to constantly evaluate the efficacy of nudges. This is necessary for their refinement and to ensure that the nudge is working as intended and does not create adverse consequences. A fourth lesson is that in relation to nudge messages, different kinds of messaging have different results and we must ensure that any unintended consequences are considered and addressed. The case studies also highlighted that the effect of nudges may be short-lived, and so must become a permanent feature of the choices presented.

It must be noted that nudges are not a magic bullet, but may be useful in supporting public policy goals and priorities when accompanied by other kinds of interventions and policy tools. The challenge for Nigeria will then be determining if addressing public procurement corruption is indeed a governmental priority that warrants utilizing a different and potentially more effective approach.