An outside view on the WDR 2015: Will adding a behavioral dimension to development mark a paradigm shift?


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The following post is a part of a series that discusses 'mind and culture,' the theme of the World Bank’s upcoming World Development Report 2015.

Recently I was asked to give some feedback on the upcoming World Development Report 2015 (WDR 2015). WDR 2015 will be both important and timely. The following are some initial suggestions for the report.

Would it be worth including the phrase “A behavioral dimension to development and emergencies” in the report (in addition to the temporal and spatial dimensions of development? Maybe it is included already?

‘Influencing behaviour is central to public policy,' as the introduction to a report (entitled ‘MINDSPACE’) for the UK government (Cabinet Office, 2010) acknowledged. ‘Therefore, civil servants need to better understand the behavioural dimension of their policies and actions.’ This, I think, applies equally to private and third sector organisations, and to UN and multilateral bodies and bilateral donors, working in development, climate change & environmental issues & emergencies.  

A paradigm shift

The phrase ‘a paradigm shift’ has been over-used in the past, but in some respects it may apply here.  However, as I understand it, it often implies that a new set of assumptions replaces the old set; this isn’t the case here (though some assumptions in the conventional economist’s model are at the very least misplaced). As I see it, a ‘behavior-focused approach’ / behavioral dimension can complement, support and strengthen existing approaches to policy and practice, rather than completely replace them (though it could perhaps also be used as a ‘stand-alone’ approach in some situations).

‘..the idea of a human being quite different from H. Economicus..’ ..H Dictyous?

This phrase was in the original objectives, but I can’t see it on the [WDR 2015] website. Maybe it is elsewhere in the report?

Christakis and Fowler (in ‘Connected,’ 2009) have coined the term ‘Homo Dictyous’..connected man/person, which fits with the WDR’s notion of ‘social interdependence’:

‘We propose an alternative to H. Economicus.  Homo dictyous (from the Latin homo for "human" and the Greek dicty for "net"), or "network man," is a vision of human nature that addresses the origins of altruism and punishment, and also of desires and repulsions. This perspective allows our motivations to depart from pure self-interest. Because we are connected to others, and because we have evolved to care about others, we take the well-being of others into account when we make choices about what to do. Moreover, by stressing our embeddedness, this perspective allows us to formally include in our understanding of people's desires a critical source: the desires of those around them. …This applies to everything from our health behaviours to our musical tastes to our voting practices. We want what others to whom we are connected want.”

Behavioral and related sciences?

By adding ‘related sciences,’ the report could cover some of the contexts in which behavior occurs: as Eldar Shafir points out (in the Introduction to ‘The Behavioral Foundations of Public Policy’), ‘Human behavior tends to be heavily context dependent.’ In my usage of the term, ‘related sciences’ covers social network science (see ‘Connected,’ for example), organizational behavior, organizational development, and systems science, among others. 

Adding ‘related sciences’ would address the criticism/misunderstanding that I have encountered: that the ‘behavioral sciences’ are concerned only with individuals and small groups and are too reductionist.

Policy design..and project/program implementation

Early on, the preamble to WDR 2015 states that “The central argument of the Report is that policy design that takes into account psychological and cultural factors will achieve development goals faster.” I would suggest also including: Policy design…and project/program implementation that take into account.


Chris Eldridge

Yunus Center at the Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand

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