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  • 9th Jan 2024

The promise of behavioral science in Latin America

Behavioral Science has a bright future ahead in Latin America.

Our first project outside of the UK was in the region—Guatemala in 2014 to increase tax declarations. Since then, BIT’s Latin America and Caribbean team (BIT LAC) has successfully applied behavioral science to many other issues. With our partners’ support, we have helped reduce violence against women, combat disinformation, improve the criminal legal system, and more that will be shared soon.

But we’re only scratching the surface. Based on BIT’s work around the world, we see major potential for other high-priority issues, from financial inclusion and anti-corruption efforts to sustainability policies and corporate compliance.

Luckily, enthusiasm for behavioral science in Latin America matches its promise. These past few months, the BIT LAC team traveled across the region. We shared new behavioral insights knowledge; reflected on the future of the field; and learned from local practitioners, academics, and civil servants.

Colombia highlights

In Medellin, Michael Hallsworth, Managing Director of BIT Americas, delivered the keynote at COMFAMA’s National Conference on Behavioral Sciences. His talk focused on 10 ways to address humanity’s greatest challenges, particularly how we can leverage behavioral insights to address different issues. He also presented a clear vision for the future of the field, drawing from A Manifesto for Applying Behavioral Science.

In Cali, Colombia, we attended the World Social Marketing Conference where we explored the intersection of social media and behavioral science. Mayra Cabrera, Advisor, gave two presentations on our work—one about the myth-busing videos we tested to reduce the spread of fake news in Peru and the other about TikTok style edutainment videos and a chatbot we developed to improve sexual and reproductive health in El Salvador.

In Bogotá, we also attended Interruptor 2023, organized by the Colombian National Planning Department. Mayra Cabrera was featured in an expert panel on the contribution of behavioral science to peace building and social transformation in the region.

While in Bogotá, Paloma Bellatin, Principal Advisor, participated in the behavioral experts panel from USAID’s Dialogue on Behavioral Science for Social Transformation 2023, organized by 11 Colombian USAID programs. She explored the challenges and opportunities of adapting and integrating behavioral sciences into the region’s development programs and implementing high-impact interventions.

Mexico highlights

In Mexico, Michael Hallsworth was the keynote speaker for BeWay’s Behavioral Way Summit 2023, which brought together over a thousand people from the public and private sectors. Michael presented our Manifesto for Applying Behavioral Science and new directions for the Latin America region.

Likewise, Arlette Ayoroa, Advisor, presented in the Third Congress on Gender Violence 2023, organized by the National Autonomous University of Mexico. She discussed our work on reaching young people with media and technology, and shifting social norms.

Peru highlights

In Peru, our team participated in the Ministry of Social Inclusion’s National Evidence Week 2023. We presented on a panel called Digital Innovation and Digital Tools to Improve Infant Nutrition based on our work with the Juntos conditional cash transfer program. 

Paloma Bellatin gave a presentation titled, “National and international experiences of digital tools to improve child nutrition and maternal well-being” while Mayra co-presented a session with Elmer Guerrero of the Ayni Social Lab titled, “Chatbots in Peru: Social innovation with the Juntos program.”

In partnership with the Ayni Social Lab of the MIDIS, we also participated in National Innovation week 2023, organized by the National Council of Science, Technology and Technological Innovation (Concytec). Rosario Ramos, Associate Advisor, and Paloma Bellatin delivered a workshop for public servants on behavioral science and participated in a panel on public innovation labs as well.

Brazil highlights

In Brasilia, Brazil, we presented at the Semana de Inovação—the biggest public innovation event in the region with 4,000+ attendees. OL Jonatan Beun, Principal Advisor, and Arlette Ayoroa led a two-hour workshop on TESTS and EAST in Portuguese, teaching 50+ civil servants how to apply these frameworks to challenges in government.

While in Brasilia, we also attended events hosted by CINCO, Brazil’s recently created behavioral insights unit, including a panel featuring participants from the Inter-American Development Bank and behavioral insights units from Argentina, Brazil, and Chile.

Panama highlights

In Panama, Arlette Ayoroa participated in an event led by UN Women for feminist organizations in Latin America about the new “ACT to End Violence Against Women” initiative. The ACT initiative will build on insights from this event to strengthen feminist organizations and networks, and to develop effective advocacy strategies. Arlette shared BIT’s experiences using behavioral science to prevent violence against women.

Argentina Highlights

In Buenos Aires, Argentina, Ol Beun recently showcased some of BIT’s exciting experiences and projects in the region at the inaugural edition of a newly established conference: “Argentineans in Behavioral Science.” This event, co-hosted by various organizations including Universidad Torcuato Di Tella’s Neuroscience Lab, Neurotransmitiendo, and Behavioral Insights Argentina, brought together over 140 participants. It was an excellent opportunity to connect with esteemed partners like the Inter-American Development Bank’s Social Protection and Health Division, the World Bank’s Mind, Behavior and Development Unit (eMBeD), and Argentina’s Behavioral Insights Unit.

Takeaways from these events

The momentum for behavioral science is energizing. Attendees at all these events were excited and motivated about applying behavioral insights to their country’s challenges. More than 200 enthusiasts joined in-person at the National Conference on Behavioral Sciences in Colombia (with 1,400+ people joining virtually), and more than a 1,000 people joined the Behavioral Way summit in Mexico. And in Brazil, a survey conducted by CINCO found 3,000+ behavioral insights initiatives in progress.

BIT’s work echoes across the region. We listened to many talks about different behavioral interventions and clearly saw BIT’s influence—all the top speakers in these events mentioned our methodologies, frameworks, and prior work. Seeing our insights being used by public and private institutions was inspiring. It energized us even more to continue producing materials that can be applied across contexts and help produce tangible social impact.

Behavioral scientists in Latin America are innovative and excited to use new technologies. Over the last decade, digital penetration in Latin America has increased from 43% to 78% (up to 90% in high income countries), and this was mostly driven by the inclusion of lower and middle classes. Researchers, practitioners, and policymakers are eager to use personal communication and AI technologies to reach more people and increase the efficiency of citizen-serving services.

Practitioners are serious about generating evidence from the region, for the region. Everywhere the BIT LAC team goes, we hear a common sentiment: the need to build behavioral science evidence in the region. This is a big challenge, but we are not intimidated. Latin America and the Caribbean has the capacity, the people, and the energy. We just need to find the right opportunities to collaborate across sectors and push rigorous behavioral research forward.

What excites you most?

We are incredibly grateful for the amazing presentations, conversations, and connections we made at these events. Looking to the new year, we hope we can make progress together on priority issues in the region and continue building the behavioral science evidence base. 

What excites you most about the potential of applied behavioral science in Latin America? Let us at the BIT LAC team know here—we’d love to hear from you.