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Blog post of the month: Nudge for good: How insights from behavioral economics can improve the world— and manipulate people

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. In August 2016, the featured blog post is "Nudge for good: How insights from behavioral economics can improve the world— and manipulate people" by Roxanne Bauer.

Richard H. Thaler is a world-renowned behavioral economist and professor of finance and psychology. Recently, he was interviewed by The Economist. The discussion covers some of the fundamental studies in the field, like “save more tomorrow” which encourages people to save more by signing up to increase their savings rate every year and auto-enrollment for pensions that have drastically increased employee participation in pension funds.

Thaler also suggests, in the interview, that behavioral economics has the ability to influence human behavior for both good and bad. He argues that much of what behavioral economics does is remove barriers. The goal is not to change people but to make life easier. However, that idea can be skewed by organizations or individuals looking to capitalize on the biases of people. Whenever he is asked to sign a copy of his book Nudge, he writes “nudge for good” which is a plea, he says, to improve the lives of people and avoid insidious behavior.

The list of ways companies nudge behavior is endless, and I would love to hear more examples from you all in the comments section. In the meantime here are a few- I’ll let you judge which ones “nudge for good”:

Reading ICAI’s review of DFID WASH results

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), UK’s aid watch dog, today, released its review of DFID’s programming and results in water sanitation and hygiene (WASH). In this impact review, they take a close look at the results DFID reported in its 2015 Annual Report; results that cost £ 713 million between 2010 – 2014. 

Do read the full report here.

Some thoughts on the areas of concern in the report:

  • The focus on ‘leaving no one behind’ is spot on. It is easy to stack up impressive WASH numbers if one ignores the poorest and the most vulnerable in communities. Safe sanitation and hygiene need to be universal for health benefits to accrue to communities. Within WASH, sanitation is specifically complex, sometimes also called a ‘wicked problem’ – a challenge foremost, of inducing lasting behaviour change. The very nature of careful social engineering required to bring about this behaviour change seems to run contrary to some of the factors that make an intervention scalable – an ability to standardise inputs and break programme components down to easily replicable bits.
  • Within the broad basket of ‘service delivery’ interventions, WASH is one of the trickier sectors when it comes to measuring sustained impact, especially at scale. Naturally then, ICAI find that while DFID’s claims of having reached 62.9 million people are broadly correct, it is very hard to establish if the benefits are sustained. Therefore, the results reported remain at the ‘output’ level and that is what ICAI ends up assessing, even though what they set out to do is an ‘impact’ review. While the report speculates on sustaining benefits beyond the 2011-15 period, I wonder whether those that accessed the programme in 2011-12 continued to experience any benefits in 2015.
  • The link with government systems, in terms of implementation, monitoring and sustenance remains unclear: another typical WASH issue. Barring say, India, (and this is true especially in sub-Saharan countries, government WASH budgets are highly inadequate. A lot of the work that happens is funded by donors and this implies that monitoring and maintenance happens outside the official system. Achieving local ownership in such a context is a challenge.
  • ICAI finds it difficult to assess value for money (VfM) in DFID’s WASH programmes. On one hand, it finds that there isn’t enough competitive procurement, but also there is a lack of established metrics and benchmarks to analyse VfM. Following DFID’s own 3Es framework, an Economy and Efficiency analysis should be possile across the portfolio, and as far as I can tell, is rapidly being developed in the sector, and within DFID. However, partly as a consequence of the lack of ‘outcome/impact’ data, cost-effectiveness studies are likely to remain a challenge. This work by an OPM-led consortium should be particularly relevant in improving VfM analysis across the sector.

Tackling cholera through radio in Kenya

BBC Media Action's picture

David Njuguna, a mentor for BBC Media Action Kenya, looks at how a volunteer-run local radio station is helping prevent cholera in Kenya.

Kamadi, presenter at Mtaani Radio in Nairobi, Kenya
Kamadi, presenter at Mtaani Radio in
Nairobi, Kenya

Last year Kenya was facing a devastating cholera outbreak. It started in the capital, Nairobi and by June 2015, a total of 4,937 cases and 97 deaths had been reported nationally.

According to public health officials, the spread of cholera in Nairobi particularly affected people living in slums. Frequent bursting of sewer lines, poor sanitation facilities and heavy rains played a major role in the outbreak. Poor hygiene practices – such as not washing hands before eating or preparing food – also contributed to the spread of disease. The outbreak eventually petered out, but the environment and practices that contributed to the spread of cholera continue to pose a threat.

In a quiet courtyard, away from the hustle and bustle of Nairobi’s Kawangware slum, a community radio station was planning a response.

Local radio

Mtaani Radio, run by a team of volunteers, was a hive of activity when I walked into their studio last week. They were recording content for ‘WASH Wednesdays’, a show looking at ways listeners can improve their health and hygiene. The show, reaching over 100,000 people in the Kawangware community, was just about to start.

World Water Day: Transforming lives through better water and jobs

Jennifer J. Sara's picture

The largest sphere represents
all of Earth's water. The next
smallest sphere represents the world's
liquid fresh water. The smallest
one represents fresh surface water
in all the lakes and rivers on the planet.
Source: US Geological Survey

Water covers 70% of Earth’s surface, but if you live in Sana’a, Sao Paolo, California, or the many other areas where drought or chronic water scarcity has affected daily life, you know that abundance can be relative.

This image from the US Geological Survey shows that only a tiny fraction of Earth’s water is the accessible freshwater we need to live, grow food, sustain the environment, and power our cities and jobs.

Growing cities and populations and a changing climate are placing unprecedented pressures on water. According to the World Economic Forum, water crises are among the top risks to global economic growth. For at least 650 million people, even the water they are able to find is unsafe.

But this also offers an opportunity to provide safer water and better manage our water resources for a more resilient future.

This year, #worldwaterday focuses on the connection between water and jobs, and these connections primarily fall under two categories: productivity and sustainability.

Can we really put a price on meeting the global targets on drinking-water and sanitation?

Guy Hutton's picture

When the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were signed, a commitment was made to deliver improved water and sanitation to half the unserved population. This ambitious target was met for water but not for sanitation, with 2.4 billion people still lacking improved sanitation in 2015. The first part of our new study, The Costs of Meeting the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal Targets on Drinking Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene, estimates the cost of finishing what was started as part of the MDG target.

The study found that globally current levels of financing are likely to cover the capital costs of achieving universal basic WASH by 2030. The global capital costs amount to $28.4 billion per year (range: $13.8 to $46.7 billion). However, despite this good news, the current allocations need to be redirected and there will need to be significantly greater spending on sanitation (accounting for 69% of the cost of basic universal WASH) and operations and maintenance, as well as in the most off-track countries which are mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

But this isn’t the full story.

Innovative Finance in the Water and Sanitation Sector

Joel Kolker's picture

The World Bank at World Water Week 2015

As the global focus shifts to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and achieving universal access to water and sanitation, there will clearly be a need to mobilize private capital to help finance the necessary infrastructure. The Global Water Practice at the World Bank has been working with key public and private sector partners in over ten countries to mobilize domestic credit and address operating inefficiencies which negatively impact on the delivery of water and sanitation. To scale up (“billions to trillions”) it will be necessary to consider the incentives needed to attract and sustain such capital flows.

How Countries Can Improve Access to Water for Women

Bhuvan Bhatnagar's picture
Because of water’s multidimensional role in economic development and poverty reduction, addressing the constraints that women and girls face in accessing and managing water is essential for achieving impact. 




Challenges of gender inequality in water include:
  • Women are disproportionately underrepresented in water sector decision making at many levels.
  • Women and girls are often charged with domestic water collection, disadvantaging other spheres of life, such as education.
  • Men benefit disproportionally from economic opportunities generated by the capital-intensive nature of water development and management.
  • Women and girls have specific sanitation needs, both for managing menstruation and for protection against gender-based violence. 

The Need Is Huge, but the Issue is Solvable and Critical to #endpoverty

Jaehyang So's picture

Jaehyang So, Director, Trust Funds and Partnerships, World Bank, wrote a partner perspective article for The Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) global partnership in advance of the April 11, 2014 SWA High-Level Meeting. Read the article below, courtesy of SWA.

What color latrine would you like? Sanitation marketing in Bangladesh

Sabrina Haque's picture

Mr Jalal with one of the hygienic latrines he built for a family. To the right is the family’s old latrine.NGOs, lending agencies, and the public sector are hard at work in meeting the global sanitation target. But what about the private sector, and what about the families that do not want to wait for the next NGO to knock on their door with a better toilet? Over the past couple of years, the Water and Sanitation Program’s (WSP) Sanitation Marketing strategy in Bangladesh has tried to address these concerns by stimulating the supply and demand of hygienic sanitation facilities through the mobilization of local entrepreneurs. The objective of Sanitation Marketing is for families to have the desire and the agency to move up the sanitation ladder on their own.
 
In 2009, the pilot program began in five villages in the Jamalpur district, and has now been scaled-up to around 230 villages across Bangladesh with support from the Dutch WASH Alliance, International Development Enterprises, and the Max Foundation. WSP also strategizes and implements the project with Hope for the Poorest (HFP), a local Bangladeshi NGO, and the Association of Social Advancement (ASA), a microfinance institution.
 
Mohammed Jalal is one of the many sanitation entrepreneurs supported by Sanitation Marketing in the Hobiganj district where WSP has began scaling up the initiative since 2011. Through microfinance loans from ASA and small-business training sessions from WSP, Mr. Jalal was able to open two stores in Hobiganj. Mr. Jalal’s shops are decorated with colorful flags to attract customers and are filled with an assortment of sanitation products such as handwashing stations and off-set pit latrines. With a catalogue in hand, Mr. Jalal markets his products to local villages and gives households the chance to move up the sanitation ladder. Customers are able to choose the materials and colors of their latrine and are most importantly, able to choose the type of sanitation facility that fits into their budget. Products range from Tk 1,600 (US $20) to Tk 20,000 (US $250), and all Sanitation Marketing entrepreneurs offer an installment plan for families to pay for their products over time. WSP additionally connects these entrepreneurs to the local government in order to establish whether any families in the area are eligible for subsidies. In the Hobiganj district alone, Sanitation Marketing has been able to support over 17 entrepreneurs like Mr. Jalal to serve hundreds of happy customers. 

From Emergency Response to Development for Water Supply and Sanitation in Liberia

Maximilian Leo Hirn's picture

The first Joint Sector Review and launch of the national Sector Investment Plan (SIP) for the Liberian water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector will take place on February 5-7. With improved sector coordination and a new, systematic plan to achieve national objectives, Liberia is well-positioned to successfully tackle its WASH challenges – if sufficient funding is found.