Last week, I attended a conference at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. It was BAD, and it was primarily about gender. (By BAD, I of course mean it was about “Behavioral Approaches to Diversity”.) The topic is obviously relevant to World Bank goals, both internally and for our clients, and to the work of the Mind, Behavior, and Development Unit (eMBeD). Here are some selected highlights.
This is the first in an occasional series of blogs on social boundaries and identity. I’m interested in the topic for obvious reasons. Social boundaries and identities, at least in some forms (and that is the rub!) have been argued to affect generalized trust and/or prejudice, governance and cooperation, and development outcomes. They may also be relevant to certain recent political developments. Here at the World Bank, the Mind, Behavior, and Development Unit (eMBeD) is involved in projects that aim to support social cohesion.
In the first part of this blog, I went down memory lane and told you about my teenage years and how my parents had managed to make sure I abstained from tobacco by offering to pay for a high school graduation trip if I did not take up smoking.
When I was a teenager in Belgium, my parents wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t become a smoker. At the age of 15, I had tried a few cigarettes with friends and they were worried I would pick up the habit. They could have organized a complicated system of surveillance and sanctions to monitor and prevent my smoking behavior. Instead, my dad offered me a very simple deal: “if you are not smoking by the time you graduate from high school, I will pay your trip to a destination of your choice in Europe during the summer before you start college”. My dad’s deal worked well: I took a great trip to Greece – my first flight – with a few friends and I have never smoked after those first cigarettes at 15.
Every Monday and Wednesday afternoon, sometime between two and three, the email arrives. There’s no content, only a subject line inviting me to tomorrow morning’s cycling class.
I’m not one to enjoy spinning. But thanks to Arben Gjino, the originator of these emails, I participate in the cruel exercise approximately 150% more than I would have in an Arben-less world. So how did this Albanian-born, former volleyball Coach get me to ride time and time again alongside a dedicated group of early morning spinning enthusiasts?
Over time, I have pieced together his secret. What helps Arben – and his students – is the utilization of concepts from psychology. In particular, he uses concepts such as being non-discriminatory, salient nudges, making the classes fun and personal, and role-modeling. As a member of the World Bank’s behavioral sciences team, which applies psychology to international development projects, I especially appreciate the use of these techniques being used on – and for - me.
As behavioral scientists to the World Bank, we at the Mind, Behavior, and Development (eMBeD) Unit tend to see behavioral science everywhere. With the holiday season fast approaching, it’s no surprise that we can apply behavioral science to any number of seasonally appropriate channels, including charitable giving. Reciprocity, it turns out, affects us at every age, and can be a good lesson for charitable giving campaigns.
“Working on the World Development Report 2015 and subsequently in the eMBeD Unit mainstreaming the use of behavioral insights within World Bank’s projects, has also been very helpful when dealing with my kids”, I told a class of undergrads where I had been invited as a speaker. The first question I was asked in the open Q&A was whether I could elaborate on that statement. How had behavioral insights helped me with my kids? Students wanted to know more. The fact that college students picked up on this sentence out of an hour-long conversation on my experience with behavioral work at the World Bank struck me.
Define the problem in terms of a behavior. Ask how rather than why. Change the frame, the perspective of looking at a problem. Diagnose the constraints. Test and adapt your interventions. These are some of the messages we teach in our workshops on behavioral insights designed for our colleagues and counterparts in governments. They are simple, yet very powerful, and they have certainly helped me working on projects in a wide range of places such as Brazil, Ethiopia and the Maldives, but also, unexpectedly, in dealing with my children.
Pollution kills 9 million people each year, new study finds
Dirty air in India and China. Tainted water in sub-Saharan Africa. Toxic mining and smelter operations in South America. Pollution around the globe now contributes to an estimated 9 million deaths annually — or roughly one in six — according to an in-depth new study published Thursday in the Lancet. If accurate, that means pollution kills three times more people each year than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, with most of those deaths in poor and developing countries.
You could say that the first one began in 2009, when the US government recruited Cass Sunstein to head The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to streamline regulations. In 2010, the UK established the first Behavioural Insights Unit (BIT) on a trial basis, under the Cabinet Office. Other countries followed suit, including the US, Australia, Canada, Netherlands, and Germany. Shortly after, countries such as India, Indonesia, Peru, Singapore, and many others started exploring the application of behavioral insights to their policies and programs. International institutions such as the World Bank, UN agencies, OECD, and EU have also established behavioral insights units to support their programs. And just this month, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland launched its own Behavioral Economics Unit.
Could a parent’s decision to vaccinate a child depend on a free bag of lentils? The premise seems implausible:immunization can be a matter of life and death, and a bag of lentils is worth only a dollar. Yet a randomized controlled trial in India showed that a gift to parents of a 1 kg bag of lentils and a set of plates can dramatically raise the percentage of children protected against major disease (Banerjee et al. 2010). Providing a quality immunization camp alone increased the percentage of fully immunized children from 6% to 18%. The addition of the lentil and plate ‘incentives’ raised the figure to a whopping 39%. How can we explain the outsize effect of a gift of everyday household items?