Filed under: Development 2.0 Social innovation

simon's visit to belarus

Simon Ruda in Belarus: Read how the UK Government is nudging people to pay their taxes

A good friend, a professor and doctor, once told me:

“The longer I live, the more I realize how complex and strange people’s behaviour is. Actually, it seems that no one really knows why human beings do what they do.”

I agree with him to a certain extent. People do often behave inconsistently, and the human mind remains the most undiscovered and mysterious place on the planet.

But if we are brave enough to make the journey, what we discover is an invaluable resource that can help us understand why people behave the way they do.

It can also help steer them towards the choices that may benefit them, and the society at large.

A recent three-day visit by Simon Ruda, one of the founding members of The Behavioural Insights Team from the UK, and Alex Oprunenco from UNDP in Moldova, has become the start of an exciting journey inside the mind for my team in Belarus.

What have we learned?

The ‘nudge’ approach.

We saw that our usual public policy tools, such as regulation, financial incentives, and information, do not always achieve the expected results.

In such cases, changes in choice architecture can make the difference and help achieve the intended results.

Ruda introduced the EAST framework which, in a nutshell, says that in order to be effective, behavioural interventions should be: Easy, Attractive, Social, and Timely.

Test and Trial

The success of interventions is context specific – what works well with one group or in one area of policy might be of limited use in another. The Behavioural Insights Team emphasizes the importance of testing all new interventions and suggests randomized controlled trials as an effective tool.

Such trials enable us to evaluate the impact of implemented policy options and improve them further. I would say that it also serves as a feedback mechanism, rendering the process flexible adaptable for future interventions.

How can we apply it to policy design?

It was amazing to find out how even relatively small changes in the way choices are presented can bring large impact.

For instance, the nudge approach was used in Denmark to encourage environmentally friendly behaviour. To prompt students to turn off the lights when leaving their rooms, reminder signs were placed next to light switches. This simple intervention resulted in a significant reduction of lights being left on.

Another example given by team involved testing the efficacy of different messages on individuals who fail to pay fines for speeding. When a photo of the vehicle caught speeding was included in the personalized letter, the number of offenders who paid the fine tripled.

This demonstrated that nudging has a potential not only to improve outcomes, but also save the public money.

So how would this work in Belarus?

The nudge strategy has a significant potential to improve outcomes and promote development in many policy areas such as environment, healthcare, and economy.

Entry points have already been identified to apply behavioural approach in a number of UNDP projects.

For instance, to promote energy efficiency, it was suggested to share comparative data on the energy consumption of different households in peoples’ monthly housing and public utility bills.

Oprunenco discussed a similar project he’s working on in Moldova testing nudging to increase adherence in tuberculosis treatment. I think this could have a potential use for the Belarus context, where high tuberculosis rates still prevail.

The introduction of a behavioural approach has already showed its effectiveness in several different countries.

It is no panacea but by integrating our development practice with insights gleaned from nudging, we can open the door to a number of new and exciting solutions to longstanding social problems.

Have you applied behavioural interventions in your work?

We would love to hear of some more ideas, and we’ll keep updating this space with our experiments as they progress.

>> Check out our behavioural science and development required reading list