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  • 28th Mar 2019

Applying behavioural insights to international development

We’re often asked whether behavioural insights are relevant across different cultures and economies. After running projects with governments and organisations in more than 20 low and middle income countries – work summarised in our new report, out today – it’s a question we’re increasingly confident in answering: yes.

Behavioural insights can contribute a great deal to addressing complex development challenges, often at very low cost, in a wide range of contexts. Given the evolutionary roots of human cognition, we have not been surprised to find that people all over the world are prone to the same decision-making biases. For example, most people prefer options that are easy, they benefit from planning assistance, and follow social norms. However, strong partnerships with local organisations have been critical for us to understand how these universal decision-making biases are expressed in different cultural and economic contexts, in order to design appropriate interventions.

Highlights from our recent work, in countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa, Georgia, and Turkey, include:

Combating corruption in Nigeria:

Not being able to show ID when requested by a public official leaves people vulnerable to demands for bribes. Working with a local office of the Federal Road Safety Corps of Nigeria, we tested the impact of sending an SMS reminder to people who had failed to pick up their new driver’s licence after the first notification.

The message, which used loss aversion by highlighting that the recipient had already paid for their licence, more than doubled the number of people who picked up their driver’s licence in a two-month period.

Improving responses to intimate partner violence (IPV) in Georgia:

We tested four different Facebook ads to encourage friends and family of IPV survivors to take supportive actions. An ad which used positive social norms about bystanders speaking out against IPV had a 50 per cent higher click rate when it offered tips for providing social support to survivors compared to connecting survivors to services. This study has generated useful insights about how to frame IPV-related campaigns in the future.

Promoting financial inclusion in Mexico:

We tested a range of behavioural interventions to encourage beneficiaries of the conditional cash transfer programme Prospera to make better use of formal financial services. We tripled the number of beneficiaries that made a digital transaction at an agent banking point (retail outlets authorised to carry out banking services) by incentivising agents with a cap, thermos and folder.

Another common question for our teams is how organisations can themselves use behavioural insights methodology to improve their management, systems and programmes.

We recommend taking a very practical approach to capacity building. For example, we supported both the tax authority and the social security agency in Indonesia to each test the impact of different email reminders on compliance behaviour. These projects provided hands-on training in conducting behavioural insights experiments, brought forward millions of dollars in payments owed to the government, and facilitated rapid adoption of evidence-based policy. The tax authority took the most successful email message from their randomised controlled trial with 11.2 million taxpayers and applied it nationally the following year.

We hope our findings inspire the further spread of behavioural insights in low and middle income countries, particularly through local organisations learning the methodology.

You can learn more about how countries are applying behavioural insights to address their policy priorities at BX2019. Join us on 5-6 September 2019!

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