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December 2018

Think behaviorally to boost impact

Carolina Sánchez-Páramo's picture
In Guatemala, Program Leader Marco Hernandez and his team tested behaviorally informed messages in letters to non-compliant taxpayers. © World Bank
In Guatemala, Program Leader Marco Hernandez and his team tested behaviorally informed messages in letters to non-compliant taxpayers. © World Bank
Behavioral science can provide creative solutions to difficult challenges, often at low cost. Behaviorally informed policy emphasizes the importance of context for decision making and behavior, paying attention to the social, psychological, and economic factors that affect what people think and do.

Since the 2015 World Development Report on Mind, Society, and Behavior, behavioral science approaches have been spreading across the World Bank Group’s work. Several staffers recently gave “lightning talks” about how they’re applying behavioral science to seemingly intractable problems that matter to all of us. Here are a few takeaways from the speakers who offered important lessons on incorporating human behavior into program design:

The ongoing impact of ‘nudging’ people to pay their taxes

Oscar Calvo-González's picture
Also available in: Español
© Maria Fleischmann/World Bank
© Maria Fleischmann/World Bank

Sustainability is the holy grail of development. There are many interventions that yield positive results in the short term but somehow fail to be sustained over time. This is why the experience in Guatemala that we are about to describe is worth paying attention to. In short, it shows that behavioral insights can lead to lasting change.

It all began in 2012 in the United Kingdom, with simple changes in the reminder letters sent to taxpayers that were late in their income tax payment. The changes were very successful, inducing payments of 4.9 million pounds (around $6.5 million) in a sample of almost 120,000 delinquent taxpayers, which would not have been raised without the intervention. The then-nascent institution called the "Behavioral Insights Team" (BIT) became known around the world with this effective and very low-cost intervention that was based on modifying the messages of the letters sent to delinquent taxpayers. The message that was most effective said: "Nine out of ten people in the U.K. pay their taxes on time. You are currently in the very small minority of people who have not paid us yet." Behavioral science experts have been able to show that telling people what most people do, especially when it comes to positive behavior, is a good technique to change behavior.

Get creative: Join the World Bank Group and Financial Times’ blog writing competition for high school students

Arathi Sundaravadanan's picture
Also available in: Español | Français | العربية
© World Bank
© World Bank

Do you often wonder what kind of job you will have when you grow up? Do you think your school is preparing you for the work you may do in the future? What will classrooms and teachers of the future be like? Do you think there are better ways to learn? Do you have inspired and imaginative ideas to re-invent education? Are you between the ages of 16 and 19 and currently enrolled in high school or a secondary education institution?

If this sounds like you, then enter our blog writing contest! The World Bank Group and the Financial Times are hosting a competition for our future leaders. We want young people with brilliant ideas and solutions, who will be most affected by the changing nature of jobs and skills to share their perspective on what could help better prepare them for the future.

Why are we running this competition? Technology is rapidly changing the world we live in and bringing us many opportunities, but we also need to adapt to these changes. The jobs of the future will be different from the ones today and we will need to learn new things and develop new skills to excel at them. This builds on the recently launched Human Capital Project as well as the World Bank’s World Development Reports on The Changing Nature of Work and LEARNING to Realize Education’s Promise.