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  • 27th Mar 2024

Realizing the promise of digital anti-corruption tools

How behavioral science and human-centered design work together for integrity (Part 2 of 3)

Digital tools are promising in the fight against corruption. 

They can raise awareness, promote positive social norms, and help people take action. As a part of larger system changes to build integrity, they can be crucial. We’ve seen this firsthand. In Nigeria, we reduced opportunities for bribes at traffic stops with text messages that people could easily access on their phones. 

However, there’s nothing more frustrating than investing substantial resources into a website or app, only to see low download rates or lagging uptake. If people don’t engage with these technologies, they won’t make much of a difference.

Behavioral science and human-centered design (HCD) can ensure we make the most of digital tools. Both prioritize people’s needs in the design of digital products so that they work with our natural behavior. 

Behavioral science draws from a vast body of evidence to inform design features that will effectively change behaviors. HCD approaches, like co-design and user testing, refine prototypes by gathering feedback directly from end users. The result: a product that is usable, appealing, and meets users’ goals.

How BI and HCD can work together to promote integrity

As part of BIT’s partnership with the John D. and Catherine T. Macarthur Foundation on their On Nigeria Big Bet, we worked with Griot Studios, a Nigerian HCD firm, to enhance the skills of five Nigerian organizations. Over the course of 2021 to 2023, they deepened their capacity to apply a behavioral science lens and HCD principles to their digital anti-corruption tools. We also worked with them to design and evaluate digital interventions.

Project 1: Addressing corruption in public procurement

Our first project was with the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) to improve the Adamawa State open contracting portal. Public procurement processes can be vulnerable to bid rigging, favoritism, and kickbacks. Citizen monitoring can help detect and report these corrupt practices, and hold government officials and contractors accountable.

Open contracting portals provide project data, which helps community monitors identify suspicious projects that should be investigated further. However, monitors have limited time and resources to visit the sites of dubious projects. They need to be able to narrow down and target those that seem most questionable.

Unfortunately, many procurement portals are difficult to navigate and engage with, limiting their usefulness and hampering monitoring efforts.

Redesigning the open contracting portal

In our work with PPDC, we spoke with community monitors and observed how they look for projects to investigate. With these insights and other exploratory research, we redesigned the Adamawa portal to make it easier for community monitors and other non-state actors to identify suspicious projects. 

The streamlined portal.

We also created a series of built-in “red flags” to automatically identify suspicious projects, reducing the burden on community monitors. Overall, the site redesign simplified and streamlined information to make it easy for users to find red flags.

Red flags to help monitors identify projects to investigate further.

Testing new features

Before implementing these changes, PPDC tested them out with community monitors (the end users). BIT and Griot Studios supported them in 10 user testing sessions of the redesigned portal.

These sessions yielded valuable insights on how real users interacted with the site. For example, some people had trouble finding red flags indicating potential corruption. To address this, we recommended a behaviorally informed solution: using color and design features to draw users’ attention and make red flags more salient.

As PPDC rolls out the new site, they plan to continue testing new features with users to continually evaluate and refine the design.  

Behavioral science and user testing go hand-in-hand

PPDC’s work is a great example of how user testing, an HCD method, and behavioral science, the study of human behavior, complement each other. 

Traditionally, behavioral science has relied on quantitative methods, like randomized controlled trials, to assess an intervention’s impact. But there is huge promise in combining these with qualitative, human-centered methods to enhance digital tools. We took this approach with other Nigerian partners as well.

Project 2: Encouraging professionals to take action online

We partnered with Integrity Organization, who was working on a social media campaign to encourage professionals to use online anti-corruption resources for their business and take corresponding actions. To increase uptake, we focused on designing the landing page or destination where social posts would direct users.

A mockup of the landing page for business leaders.

Based on our exploratory and qualitative research, we made a few recommendations, including using clear calls to action (which have been shown to help shift behavior) and testimonials from peers who have taken up the anti-corruption resources to leverage positive social norms. We supported Integrity’s team in user testing different presentations of information, or “frames,” on the site, to determine which ones appealed most to users.

Project 3: Enhancing a bribe reporting app

The Akin Fadeyi Foundation (AFF) developed FlagIt, an app for people to report roadside corruption by road safety officers. To increase usage of the app, we teamed up with AFF to revamp it with functionalities to improve user experiences and encourage people to file reports.

 A mockup of the FlagIt reporting map.

In particular, we developed a live map of reports other users had recently made. This feature is grounded in behavioral science, particularly the insight that if people see their peers are behaving in certain ways, they are more likely to do the same. AFF also user tested the app to iterate and optimize the design. 

It’s in users’ hands

Too often, time and resources are spent developing digital tools, but low uptake and usage are major barriers to making an impact. Behavioral science and HCD can help solve this challenge. We’re excited to see how the organizations we partnered with will continue to iterate their digital tools to address different facets of corruption.

But this is just one part of our anti-corruption work with the MacArthur Foundation. See an overview here and look out next week for the last blog in this series about a political drama series promoting integrity actions.

If you’d like to learn more about our work in Sub-Saharan Africa or explore partnering with us on your digital anti-corruption efforts, please contact us.

This project would not have been possible without generous funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. We are grateful to Griot Studios, the Public and Private Development Centre, Integrity Organization, and the Akin Fadeyi Foundation for their outstanding collaboration and efforts throughout this work.