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Behavior Change Communication

The things we do: How our competitive natures may help reduce our carbon footprints

Roxanne Bauer's picture

adjusting a home thermostat to save energyIn order to tackle the adverse effects of climate change in our lifetimes, the global community will need all hands on deck. One software company has found a way of reducing energy consumption by tapping into social psychology.

One way of thinking about how to approach climate change is to divide the issue into ‘wedges’.  One wedge would be to increase renewable energy production, another would be to increase energy efficiency in the electric grid, and a third, to make buildings more energy efficient. Along with these other improvements, changing human behavior is another, very important wedge. 

Two families that are demographically similar, living side by side, in similar apartments, can use dramatically different amounts of energy— the difference of which can be attributed to behavioral differences.

Keeping up with the Neighbors

These behavioral differences were demonstrated in a famous psychology experiment that focused on home energy use. The research team, led by two psychologists, Robert Cialdini of Arizona State University and Wesley Schultz of California State University, San Marcos, hung a series of five door hangers with energy-saving messages on several hundred homes in a San Diego suburb in 2004.   One hanger encouraged people to "join their neighbors" in conserving energy, one appealed to their self-interest to save money, another called on them to save energy to protect the environment, and a fourth asked them to conserve energy for future generations and the benefit of society. A fifth and final message simply stated that summer is here and it’s a time to save energy with no underlying reason.

The researchers measured the effectiveness of the messages by obtaining meter readings before and after the door hangers were distributed. They found that the last four had minimal effect. But the first, which mentioned the neighbors, produced a significant 10% reduction in home energy usage.

The things we do: How a simple text message is the difference between success and failure

Roxanne Bauer's picture

A woman and her child get the anti-malaria drugs distributed in Freetown.Mobile phones are increasingly prevalent throughout the world, and researchers have found that sending text message reminders can help people follow-through with their intentions, significantly increasing the success of development interventions.

“People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.”

These are the wise words of Samuel Johnson, an English author, critic, and lexicographer.  Even though he lived more than 200 years ago, international development interventions are proving him correct today. 
 
Reminders for Malaria
 
It’s widely known that failure to adhere to a full course of antibiotic treatment results in treatment failure can also encourage bacterial resistance to antibiotics, threatening the sustainability of current medications. This is extremely important for malaria, which, according to the World Health Organization, results in 198 million cases each year and around 584,000 deaths.  The burden is particularly heavy in Africa, where around 90% of call malaria deaths occur and in children under 5 years of age who account for 78% of all deaths. Low rates of adherence to artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) treatments has led to prevalence of antibiotic-resistant Malaria in many parts of the world, particularly Africa.  One of the biggest and simplest reasons why people fail to complete the full treatment for Malaria is that they forget.

The things we do: Nudging people to give

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Man delivers gas cylinders in IndiaIn an appeal to civic duty, the Government of India is asking citizens to forgo a gas subsidy they receive so that gas cylinders can be transferred to the less fortunate. To encourage Indians to "Give It Up," the government called on business leaders to set an example and made the procedure extremely easy.

India recently launched an ambitious cash transfer program to help small businesses and households buy fuel.  Under the plan, consumers of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), commonly referred to as propane or butane, receive a cash subsidy in their bank accounts to buy gas cylinders at market price.

Once joining the scheme, the subsidy, which is equal to the difference between the current subsidized rate and the market price, is transferred to the consumer’s bank account when he/she orders a cylinder.  Another transfer is then provided at the time of delivery of the cylinder. 

Last November, the Direct Benefit Transfer Scheme for LPG was rolled out across 54 districts, with the rest of the country participating by January 1 of this year. 

The scheme was launched by India’s previous UPA government in June 2013, but it was abruptly stopped earlier this year following court orders.  It has since been modified to exclude the requirement of providing a unique identification number (Aadhaar) to avail the cash subsidy.

The idea behind the direct benefit transfer is that it can ensure that the subsidy meant for the genuine domestic customer reaches them directly and is not diverted. The Government of India hoped to save millions each year by curbing diversions and leakages in the system but also to ensure efficient delivery of subsidies to the target beneficiaries— the consumers.

Why do sanitation campaigns fail?

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

The study finds that the govt’s rural sanitation programme, implemented by NGOs, was unable to reduce exposure to faecal matter.

A recently published Lancet paper looks at the impact of the erstwhile Total Sanitation Campaign in the coastal Puri district in Odisha. The study finds that the government’s rural sanitation programme, implemented by NGOs and community-based organisations, was unable to reduce exposure to faecal matter. As a result, this sanitation programme had no impact on the incidence of diarrhoea and malnutrition. The authors of the paper conclude that in order to realise concrete and sustainable health benefits, sanitation programmes need to increase both the coverage and use of toilets, as well as improved hygienic practices.

No one denies the importance of good sanitation and the impact it has on human health. It must follow therefore that the lack of positive impact is down to poor implementation of the sanitation programme in the study area. In fact, a process evaluation of the programme concludes that the implementation was far from perfect, both in terms of the levels of coverage achieved and the levels of awareness. Over an implementation period of 13 months (January 2011—January 2012), the villages where the programme was implemented saw an increase in toilet coverage from 9% to 63%, but only 38% of the households had a functional toilet. It would have been interesting to learn more about the gap between toilet construction and usage (25 percentage points). In any case, the state of implementation, the authors point out, is typical of the prevalent Total Sanitation Campaign across the country.
 

The things we do: What making (and avoiding) eye contact says about you

Roxanne Bauer's picture
eye contact in meetingsGuillaume de Salluste du Bartas, a French poet and diplomat, wrote in his work Divine Weeks and Works, that the eyes are the “windows of the soul.”  According to new research, he may have been right… at least partially.


Non-verbal communication, including tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, body language and posture, and, of course, eye contact accounts for 65% of all communication, according to a 2009 review published in Image and Vision Computing.  Eye contact holds a special place in the non-verbal category, though, and is generally associated with honesty and candor. In a 2006 study, nonverbal behavior affected perceptions about the truthfulness of a message AND the truthfulness of a message affected how much eye contact a messenger gave.  Thus, a person’s nonverbal behavior, including how much eye contact they give, affects whether they are perceived as honest or dishonest.

The false dichotomy among sanitation-for-all advocates

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

The sanitation debate has suffered from a seemingly irreconcilable dichotomy when it comes to identifying the best approach towards sanitation for all.

A good way of blocking progress in an argument is to present two aspects of a whole as a dichotomy. The sanitation debate, in recent years, has suffered from a seemingly irreconcilable dichotomy when it comes to identifying the best approach towards sanitation for all. This is the one that pits subsidies against motivation and correspondingly, construction against behaviour change communication. And yet, in a comprehensive and prudent programme design, there is no need for these ideas to be opposed to each other. I call this then, the false dichotomy in the world of sanitation advocates.

The current sanitation programme in India has at its centre a subsidy and incentive for individual households constructing toilets. This is a programme that has clearly not worked, irrespective of the minister or bureaucrat at the helm of affairs. India holds the ignominious record of having the largest number of people defecating in the open. At the same time, the popularity of the community-led total sanitation (CLTS) approach has risen. This approach depends on using shame and motivate as a call to action to build basic pit latrines (rejecting subsidies completely) and has worked in multiple countries around the world, as well as in certain states in India.
 

The things we do: What's in it for me?

Roxanne Bauer's picture
In a recent seminar at the International Food Policy Research Institute, Professor Nancy Lee, an adjunct faculty member at the University of Washington and President of Social Marketing Services, Inc. explained some basics about social marketing and behavior change. 

She describes social marketing as a process that applies marketing principles and techniques to influence behaviors for the benefit of individuals and society at large.  The concepts of social marketing have had a profound impact on influencing public behaviors that improve public health, prevent injuries, protect the environment, and otherwise contribute to communities.

Focus on Behaviors
Social marketing focuses on behaviors, and campaigns typically revolve around getting a target audience to take one of six actions:
  1. Accept a new behavior- composting waste, for example
  2. Reject a potentially undesirable behavior- smoking or drunk driving, for example
  3. Modify a current behavior- using fertilizer less frequently, for example
  4. Abandon an old, undesirable behavior- stop littering, for example
  5. Continue a desired behavior- donating blood annually, for example
  6. Switching a behavior- taking the stairs instead of the elevator, for example

Human Nature is Not Always Rational- How Behavioral Science can Aid Development

Paolo Mefalopulos's picture

I am not sure if I was more surprised, glad, or excited to see the recent 2015 World Development Report published by the World Bank Group. Knowing well this institution, I admit I did not expect to see the day when it would acknowledge that human behavior is not necessarily guided by rational considerations and that behavior change is not a linear process and needs to reflect the complexity of factors affecting such process. The possibility that rational thought is not at the basis of every human action is something quite revolutionary, at least within the mainstream boundaries of economic discourse.

The WDR entitled “Mind, Society and Behavior” seems to suggest that economists might actually have something to learn from behavioural scientists! However, such concepts have been floating around for a quite some time. A handful of social scientists, development scholars, and practitioners have been exploring, advocating, and applying to a different degree principles, which are now illustrated in the WDR and applying approaches that promote human agency and facilitate social change.

The Things We Do: Do Good Things Come to Those Who Wait?

Roxanne Bauer's picture

It’s an iconic test of willpower: sit a child down in front of a marshmallow, tell the child that he/she can either have the marshmallow in front of them now or they can have two— if they wait. Then leave the room and watch what the child does.

Some children will sit patiently for the adult to return so they can have their reward.  Others will try to wait but will ultimately succumb to eating the delicious treat. What is the difference between the two sets of children?

In the early 1960s, Walter Mischel conducted a series of these tests, popularly known as the “Marshmallow Tests”, at the Bing Nursery School of Stanford University to study temptation and self-control. There were other variations of the test, in which children were offered pretzel sticks, mints, or colored poker chips. The tests were also replicated in different settings, including South Bronx, where children experience high amounts of stress and poverty and in a residential treatment program for young people at high risk for aggression/externalization and depression/withdrawal. Joachim de Posada, co-author of the book, Don’t Eat the Marshmallow… Yet!, also tried the test in Colombia. The results were consistent. Some children could wait, others could not.

The Things We Do: How (not What) Movies Inspire Us

Roxanne Bauer's picture

At the basis of communication and public policy are assumptions about human beings- their rationality or irrationality, their foibles, wants and preferences. A lot depends on whether these assumptions are correct. In this feature, we bring you fascinating examples of human behavior from across the globe.

A recent article in The New York Times, “Divining Why One Film Spurs Activism, While Others Falter” highlights the work of Participant Media, an entertainment company that produces film, television, publishing and digital content that inspires social change. According to Participant Media’s website, the company “launches campaigns that bring together government entities, foundations, schools, and others to raise awareness and drive people to take action on issues from each film or television show.” 

But all of this begs the question: are these films successful in doing what they set out to do? Do people learn from the films and change their ways?  What pushes us beyond social media activism to stand up and do something about our outrage?

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