This is a guest post by Craig McIntosh and Andrew Zeitlin.
We are grateful to have this chance to speak about our experiences with USAID's pilot of benchmarking its traditional development assistance using unconditional cash transfers. Along with the companion benchmarking study that is still in the field (that one comparing a youth workforce readiness to cash) we have spent the past two and a half years working to design these head-to-head studies, and are glad to have a chance to reflect on the process. These are complex studies with many stakeholders and lots of collective agreements over communications, and our report to USAID, released yesterday, reflects that. Here, we convey our personal impressions as researchers involved in the studies.
Behavior Change Communication
This is a guest post by Craig McIntosh and Andrew Zeitlin.
I’m sure that to readers of this blog the Ebola epidemic that devastated West Africa a couple of years ago needs no introduction (just in case, here’s a nice summary by the Guardian’s health editor). So I’ll cut to the chase, and to a narrative that at the time was bubbling underneath more familiar debates about responding to health crises – you know, things like imperfect governance, fragile health systems, drug shortages.
All of them important, but this narrative was new. It was about fear, communication and cooperation – the human and social side of the crisis (explored in a SciDev.Net collection I commissioned at the time). There was also an unsettling undercurrent to it – one that conveyed ‘otherness’ and ignorance on the part of West Africans, fuelled by reports of violence against health workers and of communities resisting expert advice against risky funeral rites.
But if you listened closely, you could just about make out the voices of anthropologists trying to dispel notions that these reactions were about exotic or traditional cultures. Paul Richards was one of those voices, and luckily he’s put together a rare account of evidence, theory and experience in a book that should trigger real reflection on how we can do better in handling similar crises (hint: more listening).
Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic tells the story of the epidemic through the eyes of someone with intimate knowledge of the region and the rules that influence human interactions – very much an anthropologist’s perspective, not an epidemiologist’s. The book turns the mainstream discourse on its head, putting what Richards calls “people’s science” on an equal footing with the more orthodox science behind the international response. It captures how people and experts adapted to each other, falling into a process of knowledge co-production.
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”:
As Blair Glencorse states, “bureaucrats and civil servants can serve citizens in the way that they are supposed to.” With this in mind, the organization he founded, Accountability Lab, created Integrity Idol, a global campaign run by citizens in search for honest government officials. It aims to “highlight the good people in the system” as way to establish a culture and expectation of honesty and personal responsibility in government postings. Integrity Idol began in Nepal in 2014, spread to Liberia in 2015, and now includes Pakistan and Mali.
The process of selecting an Integrity Idol is participatory from beginning to end. Local teams of volunteers travel across their countries gathering nominations from citizens, hosting public forums and generating discussion on the need for public officials with integrity. From the long list nominees, five are selected in each country with the help of independent panels of experts. These finalists are then filmed and their episodes are shown on national television and played on the radio for a week, and citizens can vote for their favorites through SMS short-codes and on the website. The winner in each country is crowned in a national ceremony in the capital.
Here, Glencorse discusses Integrity Idol back in 2014, when the program was just getting started in Nepal. Nominations are now open in Pakistan, Nepal, and Mali. To nominate a candidate in one of these countries visit www.integrityidol.org.
The idea that there are untapped opportunities for improving the energy efficiency of individuals and homes is common. Energy efficient windows, lightbulbs, and appliances are sold worldwide. People are advised to “turn off the lights when you leave a room,” and schemes have been introduced to reduce energy consumption by tapping into social psychology. But what about large firms? Or entire industries? Companies, after all, want to minimize costs to save money, don’t they? How about airlines, whose bottom lines are subject to the international price of fuel?
It seems rational, but the International Energy Agency does not mention the aviation sector in its Energy Efficiency Market Report, nor does Kinsey in their comprehensive catalog of potential energy efficiency measures. Most reports (that I could find) focus on regulation of commercial enterprises. This is a shame. The environmental impact of aviation is clear: aircraft engines emit heat, noise, particulates, CO2, and other harmful gases that contribute to climate change. Despite more fuel-efficient and less polluting turbofan and turboprop engines for airplanes as well as innovations in air frames, engines, aerodynamics, and flight operations, the rapid growth of air travel in recent years has contributed to an increase in total aviation pollution. In part, this is because aviation emissions are not subject international regulation thus far and because the lack of global taxes on aviation fuel results in lower fares than one would see otherwise.
Interestingly, although perhaps not surprisingly, the National Bureau of Economic Research just released a working paper that suggests airlines’ fuel consumption can be reduced if they “nudge” the pilots to use less fuel, using behavioral interventions.
Globally, 157 cities around the world now have a metro system in operation. These underground trains shuttle people back and forth from work, make weekend escapes possible, and allow tourists to get around without the hassle of human communication.
The sheer number of people using metro systems has inspired quite a few rules of etiquette. In Japan it’s considered polite to switch your phone to “Manner Mode” (also known as “silent” mode) when using the metro so that other passengers aren’t subjected to ringtones as they travel. Eating durian, considered the world’s smelliest fruit, is not permitted on Singapore’s MRT, and “No durian” signs have been posted around the network. It’s also considered bad manners to sit in priority seats in Seoul subway cars at any time, regardless of whether there’s anyone around who needs them.
But perhaps the stickiest, most sincerely held rule of etiquette is that when using an escalator to enter or exit a metro station, one should stand on the right and walk on the left. This way, those who want to climb the stairs can do so on the left, without having the say “excuse me” every 5 seconds. This rule is especially important to follow at rush hour if you want to avoid grumpy remarks. Those who have forgotten to follow it can probably speak to how sanctimonious some people feel about it.
On 4 December last year, the London Underground carried 4,821,000 passengers— setting a new record for a single day. However, something else was also afoot that day.
On that particular Friday, 11,000 passengers got off at Holborn Station between 8.30 and 9.30am and faced an unusually upsetting provocation. As they turned into the concourse and looked up to the station’s escalators, they saw something truly horrifying: dozens of people were standing on the left.
It is now the second week of 2016 and many people are working (or struggling) to follow through on their New Year’s resolutions. Whether they have decided to run a marathon, travel more, or save money, many people endeavor to create positive, new habits while shedding existing habits they think are less positive. These resolutions, though, tend to last one or two months, fading into the backgrounds of their consciousness as spring arrives.
It’s a typical combination of the planning fallacy, unrealistic optimism, and a bit of self-regulatory failure.
And this sort of challenge is not specific to New Year’s resolutions or even to issues pertaining to individuals. City councils frequently draw up budgets that are too lean, road construction frequently lasts much longer than expected, and advances in technology often require much more investment than planners expect. So what’s at work here? Why is it that people have a hard time judging the amount of time, energy, and resources that a project will take?
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 leads to treatment failure and encourages 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 malaria deaths occur, and in children under 5 years of age, who account for 78% of all deaths. Moreover, low rates of adherence to artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) treatments has led to a 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.
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Following prolonged conflict, it is often difficult to reestablish security and reduce crime and violence, especially among poor young men. In Liberia, development experts have been researching the most effective ways to support high-risk individuals, and they may have found an effective approach combining therapy with cash.
One of the most pressing concerns in post-conflict settings is how to help individuals transition back into a peaceful life. After a conflict has subsided, small arms are usually very common, local and national economies have been destroyed, and the emotional stress of the violence begins to take on new forms. Former soldiers, in particular, have trouble with the transition as they struggle with the pain and horror of what they experienced, and many do not remember how to participate in community life anymore. In response, the international development community often tries to “enable” these men by creating jobs for them. The theory is that if people are busy working they will not have the time or the inclination to commit crime.
However, simply providing jobs is rarely enough. The Network for Empowerment & Progressive Initiative (NEPI), an organization operating in Monrovia, Liberia, challenges this paradigm and seeks to support men formerly engaged in the country’s two civil wars by rehabilitating them through therapy.
Klubosumo Johnson Borh, the founder of NEPI, was as a Liberian teenager when he was recruited for Charles Taylor‘s infamously brutal rebel army. Borh was made a commander and oversaw soldiers who were even younger than he was. By the end of the conflict, which lasted from 1989 through 2003, nearly 10% of the population had been killed, and thousands of child soldiers were now grown men. Many of these men had trouble shaking the violent behaviors they had learned in war so Borh helped start NEPI in an effort to reform these and other troubled men.