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Part 1: Five principles to behavior change: Why don’t they use these toilets?

Marta Milkowska's picture
They were simply not used. A few dozen toilets constructed in a small village in India worked well, except the villagers were not using them. Some conversations later, researchers discovered what had been overlooked during the planning phases: the morning open defecation practice was the only social activity for local women, otherwise spending all their time under the guardianship of their husbands. It was the highlight of their day, the time when they could freely talk, laugh, and gossip without the constraint of men and their day to day life. Convincing women to use toilets was completely contradictory to their social needs and norms.

The story above outlines a larger pattern in international development: increasing the focus on factors beyond developing infrastructure. As service delivery is fundamentally about people, it is triggering people’s behavior that brings either success or failure to such projects and those people at the core of the service delivery challenge.

Five principles social enterprises use to change behaviors at the bottom of the pyramid

In March, the World Bank Group’s Social Enterprise Innovation Program brought together several Indian social enterprises delivering basic services to the poorest -- also former Development Marketplace (DM) grantees -- and top behavioral change experts from the World Bank Global INsights Initiative (GINI) and Ideas42 to answer this question and to understand how insights from behavioral science can help social enterprises address behavioral challenges of their beneficiaries.

Five principles social enterprises use to change behaviors at the bottom of the pyramid emerged from the discussion:
  1. Don’t try to “fix” a person. Fix the context. 
  2. Decrease the hassle factor.
  3. Address inattention.
  4. Create new social norms.  
  5. Address present bias. 
Why the context of scarcity matters?

Regardless of if you are white or black, Polish, American or Indian, we are influenced by the context in which we are making our decisions, our mindset, the social and cultural norms surrounding us, and by our cognitive limitations. But there is a unique and important consideration when designing for low- income populations: the context of scarcity, and it matters. It further decreases self-control and attention. It also impedes cognitive functions: Anandi Mani et al analyzed the cognition of poor farmers during the planting cycle and found that the same farmer did much better on a test during the harvest time, with money, as compared with before the harvest, when he was poorer.

Hence, infrastructure development can’t be enough to achieve our ambitious goals of reducing open defecation, or improving nutrition or school enrollment rates. With international development facing increasingly complex challenges, deeply dependent on people’s behavior, getting behavior change right is essential for the World Bank and its clients. While designing such holistic, innovative programs in basic service delivery to the bottom of the pyramid these five principles and examples of social enterprise innovations can provide critical insights.

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