28 May 2015

Nudging Rich and Nudging Poor

In the very short time since I moved to the USA, I was fortunate enough to have met a gentleman who works (worked) at the World Bank in research and applications of behavioural economics in development policies. It was very fortunate since we met because he was selling a car and my wife and I were buying one.

While we were waiting for the car to be inspected by a mechanic we had a wonderful chat on behavioural science and its applications. We shared perspectives, points of view, experiences and illustrations of behaviourally informed interventions.

For me this short chat was an eye opener on the differences in Nudging across countries.

When it comes to differences across countries, the first thing that comes to mind is Culture and subsequently, Cultural Differences.

Culture, however, is not the (main) cause for the differences that exist in applying behavioural science in rich and poor countries. (I’m oversimplifying, I know). The main cause is the (invisible) infrastructure that exists in rich countries and, quite often, lacks in poor ones.

In the Western World we have infrastructure that we take for granted and, to some extent, we have become blind when it comes to it. Many western-world nudges and behavioural design features are built on this (seemingly) invisible infrastructure.

The example of the Fly in the Urinal  nudge (Featured in the book Nudge and detailed in this article), it is a wonderful illustration on the how western-world nudges are built on the western-world infrastructure.

The Fly in the Urinal intervention is aimed at tackling a sanitation / health problem – spillage of urine in public toilets.

As you can imagine, sanitation and subsequent health related problems are not specific to the western world; such problems are present everywhere and the western world is (maybe) the least affected by them.

What is essential here is that the Fly in the Urinal intervention assumes that there is a sewerage system.

I know this sounds weird, but it is true. Moreover, I have to admit that I have never thought about this underlying pre-condition of the fly in the urinal intervention. I guess I’m not the only westerner Behavioural science guy who has taken this for granted.

Whereas for westerners the presence of sewerage systems is natural, according to the World Bank Report 2015,

 About one billion people defecate in the open. (see page 17)

For this behavioural problem which brings health problems, flies (in the urinal) will not work. (Flies will appear naturally, but they will only worsen the problem).

The design of behavioural interventions definitely is context dependent and infrastructure might play a bigger role than culture.

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