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Ideas and results from Harvard, part IV

3rd Dec 2012

In this post, we share our discussions from Harvard listed under the fourth part of our simple mnemonic, EAST (Easy, Attractive, Social, Timely).

T is for TIMELY

Shop next week for healthier choices. A continued theme in Max Bazerman’s work is around people’s tendency to make more ‘rational’ decisions for the future when not acting on impulse (and how citizens and policymakers can utilise this). For example, he and others show how people select healthier choices, in (real) online grocery shopping due, for delivery in 5 days than if the delivery is due in the next 1 or 2. Similarly, he argues that the public will accept environmental legislation if its costs are delayed or set into the future. Max’ group are also keen to try out the timely prompting of honesty by moving signatures to the beginning of forms. A key challenge is how to make this work in online forms.

Take-up of flu-shots at work could be significantly increased by explicitly prompting people to make a date and time to get a shot in the invitation letter. Bridgette Madrian (KSG) found this worked significantly better than just telling people about the availability of the shots, or even just encouraging them to make a date alone. Bridgette, an expert on pension defaults, is also now interested in whether unnecessary and unpleasant end of life over-treatment could be reduced by encouraging people to make advance directives at key junctions in life, e.g. at 65 when they become entitled to medicare in the USA.

A cheap way to save lives. Water chlorination at point of use is a cheap alternative to at-source purification. Michael Kremer (KSG) highlighted low take up of chlorination in the developing world. It is cheap and effective but can be quite fiddly to implement and has an unpleasant taste to some. But these issues could be overcome by putting a chlorine dispenser next to where people commonly collected water, enabling people to add it to the water as they picked it up. Early small scale trials have indicated that adding chlorine this way makes it a social activity instead of something done in private (so people learn from each other) and means that by the time the water was carried back to the home it had mixed effectively and the taste had largely gone.