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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”:

Reading ICAI’s review of DFID WASH results

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), UK’s aid watch dog, today, released its review of DFID’s programming and results in water sanitation and hygiene (WASH). In this impact review, they take a close look at the results DFID reported in its 2015 Annual Report; results that cost £ 713 million between 2010 – 2014. 

Do read the full report here.

Some thoughts on the areas of concern in the report:

  • The focus on ‘leaving no one behind’ is spot on. It is easy to stack up impressive WASH numbers if one ignores the poorest and the most vulnerable in communities. Safe sanitation and hygiene need to be universal for health benefits to accrue to communities. Within WASH, sanitation is specifically complex, sometimes also called a ‘wicked problem’ – a challenge foremost, of inducing lasting behaviour change. The very nature of careful social engineering required to bring about this behaviour change seems to run contrary to some of the factors that make an intervention scalable – an ability to standardise inputs and break programme components down to easily replicable bits.
  • Within the broad basket of ‘service delivery’ interventions, WASH is one of the trickier sectors when it comes to measuring sustained impact, especially at scale. Naturally then, ICAI find that while DFID’s claims of having reached 62.9 million people are broadly correct, it is very hard to establish if the benefits are sustained. Therefore, the results reported remain at the ‘output’ level and that is what ICAI ends up assessing, even though what they set out to do is an ‘impact’ review. While the report speculates on sustaining benefits beyond the 2011-15 period, I wonder whether those that accessed the programme in 2011-12 continued to experience any benefits in 2015.
  • The link with government systems, in terms of implementation, monitoring and sustenance remains unclear: another typical WASH issue. Barring say, India, (and this is true especially in sub-Saharan countries, government WASH budgets are highly inadequate. A lot of the work that happens is funded by donors and this implies that monitoring and maintenance happens outside the official system. Achieving local ownership in such a context is a challenge.
  • ICAI finds it difficult to assess value for money (VfM) in DFID’s WASH programmes. On one hand, it finds that there isn’t enough competitive procurement, but also there is a lack of established metrics and benchmarks to analyse VfM. Following DFID’s own 3Es framework, an Economy and Efficiency analysis should be possile across the portfolio, and as far as I can tell, is rapidly being developed in the sector, and within DFID. However, partly as a consequence of the lack of ‘outcome/impact’ data, cost-effectiveness studies are likely to remain a challenge. This work by an OPM-led consortium should be particularly relevant in improving VfM analysis across the sector.

Tackling cholera through radio in Kenya

BBC Media Action's picture

David Njuguna, a mentor for BBC Media Action Kenya, looks at how a volunteer-run local radio station is helping prevent cholera in Kenya.

Kamadi, presenter at Mtaani Radio in Nairobi, Kenya
Kamadi, presenter at Mtaani Radio in
Nairobi, Kenya

Last year Kenya was facing a devastating cholera outbreak. It started in the capital, Nairobi and by June 2015, a total of 4,937 cases and 97 deaths had been reported nationally.

According to public health officials, the spread of cholera in Nairobi particularly affected people living in slums. Frequent bursting of sewer lines, poor sanitation facilities and heavy rains played a major role in the outbreak. Poor hygiene practices – such as not washing hands before eating or preparing food – also contributed to the spread of disease. The outbreak eventually petered out, but the environment and practices that contributed to the spread of cholera continue to pose a threat.

In a quiet courtyard, away from the hustle and bustle of Nairobi’s Kawangware slum, a community radio station was planning a response.

Local radio

Mtaani Radio, run by a team of volunteers, was a hive of activity when I walked into their studio last week. They were recording content for ‘WASH Wednesdays’, a show looking at ways listeners can improve their health and hygiene. The show, reaching over 100,000 people in the Kawangware community, was just about to start.