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behavioral economics

Can behavioral change support water conservation? Examples from the US, Colombia and Costa Rica

Juan Jose Miranda's picture


This blog is part of the series "Small changes, big impacts: applying #behavioralscience into development".

While Latin America is rich in water, people’s ability to access safe, reliable water supply remains elusive in most countries. Worse, most countries and major cities in the region will face economic water scarcity in less than a decade. Strategies to manage water scarcity vary, from investing in water recycling facilities to changing consumer behavior.

The most common ways to change consumer behavior are to increase the price or conduct communication campaigns to encourage conservation. Neither solution, however, is guaranteed to succeed. In some cases, they even backfire. Increasing price, for example, can upset citizens who currently pay little for poor quality water. Likewise, if done poorly, communication campaigns can cause panic and increase consumption and water stockpiling, something Bogota faced in 1997 when a tunnel providing water to the city collapsed and caused water shortages.

#10 from 2016: Nudge for good: How insights from behavioral economics can improve the world— and manipulate people

Roxanne Bauer's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2016. This post was originally posted on August 16, 2016.
 
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, but 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”:

Does superior information make us more discerning? What Uber drivers can teach us about learning and rationality

Roxanne Bauer's picture

In 1957, Herbert A. Simon (Nobel Prize in economics 1978) introduced the concept of bounded rationality that recognizes that in decision making, human rationality is limited by the information we have, our own cognitive biases, our training and experience, and the finite amount of time we have to make a decision. Individuals and firms do the best they can with the information they have, and since they don’t have time to evaluate and rationally pick the optimal solution, they simplify their choices and go with one that is satisfactory rather than rationally optimal—this is called stastificing.

Behavioral economics accounts for this by attempting to incorporate psychological insights. While most economists agree that there are some limits to the reasoning capabilities of individuals and firms, there has been much discussion about where and how to account for bounded rationality.  On the spectrum between perfect rationality and the total absence of it, where are humans?

To explore this question, let’s take a look at cabdrivers and Uber drivers.

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”:

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

Roxanne Bauer's picture
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, but 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”:

Behavioral economics and social justice: A perspective from poverty and equity

James Walsh's picture

It has been almost ten years since Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein wrote Nudge, but the revolution in behavioral policymaking is still unfolding.
 
Around the world, behavioral economists and policymakers strive to show that a richer model of human behavior can improve both individual and social welfare in virtually all domains of society.

Do social factors determine “who we are” as well as the choice sets we have?

Karla Hoff's picture

The World Bank’s conference on “The State of Economics, the State of the World” was an opportunity to take stock of the emergence of new paradigms for understanding economic development.  Following Ken Arrow’s talk on the history of the neoclassical model and Shanta Devarajan’s comments on this model’s centrality in the Bank’s work, I had the opportunity to discuss two paradigms of how individuals make decisions that have recently emerged in economics, drawing on psychology, sociology, and anthropology.

Leadership for results

Ajay Tejasvi Narasimhan's picture
In my experience, when development practitioners are called in to help address a complex challenge, they are not alone. Every development project requires an implementation team – people working together to achieve development objectives and outcomes. Depending on the nature of the challenge, practitioners may work with government officials, staff from NGOs and CSOs, community leaders, sector specialists, and others. It, thus, becomes vitally important for members of these teams to understand one another and the stake each has in the project, the perspective from which they approach it, and their assumptions about it, their history with, and their commitment to it.
 
In addition, development professionals must become knowledgeable about the reality of the communities in which they work to avoid designing implementation plans that don’t always work out as intended. For example, we have all heard the stories of cook stoves or toilets that are introduced into communities, but are used as storage objects. This attention to personal, political, and social factors affecting project design and implementation is precisely what the Collaborative Leadership for Development Program helps operational teams achieve and maintain, to get desired results.
 
In the 2015 World Development Report on Mind, Society, and Behavior, the World Bank identifies three kinds of thinking we all do by reflex.
  • Thinking automatically, rather than carefully and deliberatively – we typically do not bring our full analytical prowess to bear on the issues and experiences of our daily lives;
  • Thinking socially, or in ways that are related to how others around us think – the influence of peer-pressure on our thought process is an example; and
  • Thinking with mental models generated by societal norms and the culture in which we live that tacitly influence how we perceive and think about our world.

These ways of thinking, research suggests, are implicit and fundamental and they shape human behavior, including interpersonal and collective interactions and decision making. This insight has enormous implications for our development work. If we do not account for and bring to the surface such social, cultural, and psychological realities in the design and implementation of projects, we can expect to be setting ourselves up for failure. Most challenges today are a complex mix of technical problems and behavioral or adaptive challenges.

The things we do: Why people hate Uber’s surge pricing so much

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Globally, citizens from Guadalajara to Chengdu both love and loath ride sharing app, Uber. 

We love it for the convenience, the ease with which we can pay, and the ability to avoid intemperate weather conditions— all though a few taps on our mobile phone. 
But… we loath it when surge pricing is in effect.  “Surge pricing” increases the cost of rides by many times the normal fare when demand is swelling, most commonly at rush hour, during inclement weather, or on a public holiday.  In these cases, the supply of drivers is constant or even low, creating a shortage of available rides.  By raising the price of each ride, Uber encourages more drivers to pick up passengers and rations the available supply of rides to the customers who value the service the most (those who are willing to pay more).
 
Nevertheless, while surge pricing may make economic sense, it feels like price gouging for many customers.  The recent clampdown on surge pricing by the Delhi and Karnataka governments illustrates the intense debate over Uber’s policies that has been circulating worldwide. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal even called surge pricing “daylight robbery”.
 
The debate has polarized opinion not just in India, but also in cities as diverse as Sydney, Paris, New York and Budapest. The reaction is even more severe when there is an emergency, such as during the December 2014 hostage crisis in Sydney, where a masked gunman held people captive in a café. As the central business district was cleared out by police, surge pricing automatically kicked in. Customers were appalled by Uber’s apparent insensitivity to the situation. The outrage grew so intense that Uber was forced it to suspend surge pricing and offer free rides.


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