Five Studies: How Behavioral Science Can Help in International Development

 in Pacific Standard: “In 2012, there were 896 million people around the world—12.7 percent of the global population—living on less than two dollars a day. The World Food Programestimates that 795 million people worldwide don’t have enough food to “lead a healthy life”; 25 percent of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa are undernourished. Over three million children die every year thanks to poor nutrition, and hunger is the leading cause of death worldwide. In 2012, just three preventable diseases (pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria) killed 4,600 children every day.

Last month, the World Bank announced the launch of the Global Insights Initiative (GINI). The initiative, which follows in the footsteps of so-called “nudge units” in the United Kingdom and United States, is the Bank’s effort to incorporate insights from the field of behavioral science into the design of international development programs; too often, those programs failed to account for how people behave in the real world. Development policy, according to the Bank’s 2015 World Development Report, is overdue for a “redesign based on careful consideration of human factors.” Researchers have applauded the announcement, but it raises an interesting question: What can nudges really accomplish in the face of the developing world’s overwhelming poverty and health-care deficits?

In fact, researchers have found that instituting small program changes, informed by a better understanding of people’s motivations and limitations, can have big effects on everything from savings rates to vaccination rates to risky sexual behavior. Here are five studies that demonstrate the benefits of bringing empirical social science into the developing world….(More)”