A lesson on nudging from the Magic 8-ball

One of the many possible answers the Magic 8-ball can give its inquirer is “Ask again later.” A few years ago, the Illinois inspector general applied that idea to help protect children in the state’s child welfare system. No word on a tip of the cap to the Magic 8-ball. (From NYT op-ed).

The Illinois inspector general found that a failure to identify parents’ mental health and substance abuse problems was a common feature in child deaths. Harried caseworkers who had to substantiate a complaint of abuse or neglect didn’t have enough time to thoroughly investigate whether drug addiction and mental illness were involved. When state forms required them to choose yes or no in those first hectic days, they chose no — and often no one came back to help the families. So the inspector general urged the state to give workers another option, one that would indicate a need for continuing assessment in these in-between cases.


  • jane prusakova

    Software, as well as paper forms, can carry lots of useful nudges, but it rarely rises to the challenge.  

    One great example is Mozilla email client, Thunderbird, that reminds the user to attach a file if the word “attached” appears anywhere in the body of the email.  However, that’s a rare case. 
    One of the worse cases is PowerPoint – while it allows to create good presentations as well as bad ones, the choice architecture is heavily skewed toward the bad one.