Livestreaming Pollution: A New Form of Public Disclosure and a Catalyst for Citizen Engagement?

NBER Working Paper by Emiliano Huet-Vaughn, Nicholas Muller, and Yen-Chia Hsu: “Most environmental policy assumes the form of standards and enforcement. Scarce public budgets motivate the use of disclosure laws. This study explores a new form of pollution disclosure: real-time visual evidence of emissions provided on a free, public website. The paper tests whether the disclosure of visual evidence of emissions affects the nature and frequency of phone calls to the local air quality regulator. First, we test whether the presence of the camera affects the frequency of calls to the local air quality regulator about the facility monitored by the camera. Second, we test the relationship between the camera being active and the number of complaints about facilities other than the plant recorded by the camera. Our empirical results suggest that the camera did not affect the frequency of calls to the regulator about the monitored facility. However, the count of complaints pertaining to another prominent industrial polluter in the area, steel manufacturing plants, is positively associated with the camera being active. We propose two behavioral reasons for this finding: the prior knowledge hypothesis and affect heuristics. This study argues that visual evidence is a feasible approach to environmental oversight even during periods with diminished regulatory capacity….(More)”.

The Structure of Bias

Paper by  Gabbrielle M Johnson: “What is a bias? Standard philosophical views of both implicit and explicit bias focus this question on the representations one harbors, e.g., stereotypes or implicit attitudes, rather than the ways in which those representations (or other mental states) are manipulated. I call such views representationalism.

In this paper, I argue that representationalism about bias is a mistake because it conceptualizes social bias in ways that do not fully capture the phenomenon. Crucially, such views fail to capture a heretofore neglected possibility of bias: one that influences an individual’s beliefs about and actions toward other people, but is, nevertheless, nowhere represented in that individual’s cognitive repertoire.

In place of representationalism, I develop a functional account of bias that treats it as a mental entity that takes propositional mental states as inputs and returns propositional mental states as outputs in a way that instantiates, or at the very least mimics, inferences on the basis of an individual’s social group membership. This functional characterization leaves open which mental states and processes bridge the gap between the inputs and outputs, ultimately highlighting the diversity of candidates that can serve this role….(More)”.

Playing Games While Building Savings

Corporate Insights: “Nearly half of all Americans play video games, yet only a third have more than a thousand dollars saved for an emergency. A new fintech startup called Blast hopes to combine the increasingly popular pastime with saving for the future. Unlike other attempts to gamify savings that create entirely new experiences, Blast works alongside existing games with three ways for users to increase their balances when they play: automated micro-deposits, mission rewards and weekly prizes. By linking to games that people already enjoy, Blast avoids the difficult task of creating a hit game to reach a wide audience.

Much like Acorns—co-founded by Blast’s creator, Walter Cruttenden—and other micro-savings apps that make small automatic deposits to users’ savings, Blast automatically moves small amounts into savings whenever users accomplish in-game tasks. These “triggers” are user-controlled and available for popular online games like League of Legends and Counter Strike: Global Offensive. For example, users can choose to deposit $1.00 every time they win a match or $0.10 every time they defeat an enemy player. The linked savings account provided by Wells Fargo earns 1.00% APY, and Blast can withdraw funds from a linked checking or PayPal account.

Blast partners with game publishers to reward users for playing their games, doling out set amounts to users who engage (or re-engage) with games made by its partners…(More)”. 

5 Tips for Launching (and Sustaining) a City Behavioral Design Team

Playbook by ideas42: “…To pave the way for other municipalities to start a Behavioral Design Team, we distilled years of rigorously tested results and real-world best practices into an open-source playbook for public servants at all levels of government. The playbook introduces readers to core concepts of behavioral design, indicates why and where a BDT can be effective, lays out the fundamental competencies and structures governments will need to set up a BDT, and provides guidance on how to successfully run one. It also includes several applicable examples from our New York and Chicago teams to illustrate the tangible impact behavioral science can have on citizens and outcomes.

Thinking about starting a BDT? Here are five tips for launching (and sustaining) a city behavioral design team. For more insights, read the full playbook.

Compose your team with care

While there is no exact formula, a well-staffed BDT needs expertise in three key areas: behavioral science, research and evaluation, and public policies and programs. You’ll rarely find all three in one person—hence the need to gather a team of people with complementary skills. Some key things to look for as you assemble your team: background in behavioral economics or social psychology, formal training in impact evaluation and statistics, and experience working in government positions or nonprofits that implement government programs.

Choose an anchor agency

To more quickly build momentum, consider identifying an “anchor” agency. A high profile partner can help you establish credibility and can facilitate interactions with different departments across your government. Having an anchor agency legitimizes the BDT and helps reduce any apprehension among other agencies. The initial projects with the anchor agency will help others understand both what it means to work with the BDT and what kinds of outcomes to expect.

Establish your criteria for selecting projects

Once you get people bought-in and excited about innovating with behavioral science, the possible problems to tackle can seem limitless. Before selecting projects, set up clear criteria for prioritizing which problems need attention the most and which ones are best suited to behavioral solutions. While it is natural for the exact criteria to vary from place to place, in the playbook we share the criteria the New York and Chicago BDTs use to prioritize and determine the viability of potential undertakings that other teams can use as a starting place.

Build buy-in with a mix of project types

If you run only RCTs, which require implementation and data collection, it may be challenging to generate the buy-in and enthusiasm a BDT needs to thrive in its early days. That’s why incorporating some shorter engagements, including projects that are design-only, or pre-post evaluations can help sustain momentum by quickly generating evidence—and demonstrate that your BDT gets results.

Keep learning and growing

Applying behavioral design within government programs is still relatively novel. This open-source playbook provides guidance for starting a BDT, but constant learning and iterating should be expected! As BDTs mature and evolve, they must also become more ambitious in their scope, particularly when the low-hanging-fruit or other more obvious problems that can be helpful for building buy-in and establishing proof-of-concept have been addressed. The long-term goal of any successful BDT is to tackle the most challenging and impactful problems in government programs and policies head-on and use the solutions to help the people who need it most…(More)”

Friends with Academic Benefits

The new or interesting story isn’t just that Valerie, Betsy, and Steve’s friends had different social and academic impacts, but that they had various types of friendship networks. My research points to the importance of network structure—that is, the relationships among their friends—for college students’ success. Different network structures result from students’ experiences—such as race- and class-based marginalization on this predominantly White campus—and shape students’ experiences by helping or hindering them academically and socially.

I used social network techniques to analyze the friendship networks of 67 MU students and found they clumped into three distinctive types—tight-knitters, compartmentalizers, and samplers. Tight-knitters have one densely woven friendship group in which nearly all their friends are friends with one another. Compartmentalizers’ friends form two to four clusters, where friends know each other within clusters but rarely across them. And samplers make a friend or two from a variety of places, but the friends remain unconnected to each other. As shown in the figures, tight-knitters’ networks resemble a ball of yarn, compartmentalizers’ a bow-tie, and samplers’ a daisy. In these network maps, the person I interviewed is at the center and every other dot represents a friend, with lines representing connections among friends (that is, whether the person I interviewed believed that the two people knew each other). During the interviews, participants defined what friendship meant to them and listed as many friends as they liked (ranging from three to 45).

The students’ friendship network types influenced how friends matter for their academic and social successes and failures. Like Valerie, most Black and Latina/o students were tight-knitters. Their dense friendship networks provided a sense of home as a minority on a predominantly White campus. Tight-knit networks could provide academic support and motivation (as they did for Valerie) or pull students down academically if their friends lacked academic skills and motivation. Most White students were compartmentalizers like Betsy, and they succeeded with moderate levels of social support from friends and with social support and academic support from different clusters. Samplers came from a range of class and race backgrounds. Like Steve, samplers typically succeeded academically without relying on their friends. Friends were fun people who neither help nor hurt them academically. Socially, however, samplers reported feeling lonely and lacking social support….(More)”.

Behavioral Economics: Are Nudges Cost-Effective?

Carla Fried at UCLA Anderson Review: “Behavioral science does not suffer from a lack of academic focus. A Google Scholar search for the term delivers more than three million results.

While there is an abundance of research into how human nature can muck up our decision making process and the potential for well-placed nudges to help guide us to better outcomes, the field has kept rather mum on a basic question: Are behavioral nudges cost-effective?

That’s an ever more salient question as the art of the nudge is increasingly being woven into public policy initiatives. In 2009, the Obama administration set up a nudge unit within the White House Office of Information and Technology, and a year later the U.K. government launched its own unit. Harvard’s Cass Sunstein, co-author of the book Nudge, headed the U.S. effort. His co-author, the University of Chicago’s Richard Thaler — who won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Economics — helped develop the U.K.’s Behavioral Insights office. Nudge units are now humming away in other countries, including Germany and Singapore, as well as at the World Bank, various United Nations agencies and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Given the interest in the potential for behavioral science to improve public policy outcomes, a team of nine experts, including UCLA Anderson’s Shlomo Benartzi, Sunstein and Thaler, set out to explore the cost-effectiveness of behavioral nudges relative to more traditional forms of government interventions.

In addition to conducting their own experiments, the researchers looked at published research that addressed four areas where public policy initiatives aim to move the needle to improve individuals’ choices: saving for retirement, applying to college, energy conservation and flu vaccinations.

For each topic, they culled studies that focused on both nudge approaches and more traditional mandates such as tax breaks, education and financial incentives, and calculated cost-benefit estimates for both types of studies. Research used in this study was published between 2000 and 2015. All cost estimates were inflation-adjusted…

The study itself should serve as a nudge for governments to consider adding nudging to their policy toolkits, as this approach consistently delivered a high return on investment, relative to traditional mandates and policies….(More)”.

How Incorporating Behavioral Science into Cash Transfer Programs Is Changing Lives

Josh Martin and Laura Rawlings at Next Billion: “…Today, a new generation of cash transfer programs – currently being piloted in several countries in Africa – uses behavioral insights to help beneficiaries decide how to spend their cash and follow through on those plans. But the circumstances under which they receive the funds—like how long they have to wait on payment day or how close the local market is to the payment site—impact whether they put that intention into action. Other often-overlooked program design factors, such as the frequency of payments or how the purpose of the cash is framed, can disproportionately affect how people spend (or save) their money. Insights from behavioral science show that people act in predictable ways—and we can use that knowledge to design cash transfer programs that support people’s goals and continue to set them up for success.

For example, in our work, we have found that the way payments are made often caters more to administrators’ convenience than beneficiaries’ needs. But some innovators are already changing the timing, location and frequency of payments to suit recipients. For instance, GiveDirectly, a nonprofit that provides unconditional cash transfers, is experimenting with allowing beneficiaries in Kenya to choose when they’d prefer their payments to occur. This is important because getting money at the wrong time can actually increase stress. When cash arrives infrequently, it forces recipients to stretch funds until the next payment. But if it is transferred too often, recipients must save slowly over time, pulling their attention away from other critical tasks. While it isn’t always possible to pay everyone according to their ideal schedule, even offering some payment flexibility may help recipients achieve their goals more quickly.

A simple prompt for beneficiaries to consider how they’d like to use their money right before receiving it can also support their financial goals. Other tactics include reminders to follow through on plans, systems to provide feedback to people on their savings progress, and wallets to help them physically separate (and thus mentally separate) what they want to spend routinely from what they want to set aside for the future. Many inexpensive options exist that are fairly easy to put in place.

To bring more of these solutions to cash transfer programs, ideas42 and the World Bank, with financial support from the Global Innovation Fund, are launching a new initiative, Behavioral Design for Cash Transfer Programs. Working with government partners to identify the best options for incorporating behavioral designs in cash transfer programs across several African nations is a critical next step in improving this anti-poverty tool. We can then work to make behavioral science an automatic part of any social protection program that features a cash transfer….(More)”.

Nudging the city and residents of Cape Town to save water

Leila Harris, Jiaying Zhao and Martine Visser in The Conversation: “Cape Town could become the world’s first major city to run out of water – what’s been termed Day Zero….To its credit, the city has worked with researchers at the University of Cape Town to test strategies to nudge domestic users into reducing their water use. Nudges are interventions to encourage behaviour change for better outcomes, or in this context, to achieve environmental or conservation goals.

What key insights could help inform the city’s strategies? Research from psychology and behavioural economics could prove useful to refine efforts and help to achieve further water savings.

The most effective tactics

Research suggests the following types of nudges could be effective in promoting conservation behaviours.

Social norms: International research, as well as studies conducted in Cape Town, suggest that effective conservation can be promoted by giving feedback to consumers on how they perform relative to their neighbours. To this end, Cape Town introduced a water map that highlights homes that are compliant with targets.

The city has also been bundling information on usage with easy to implement water saving tips, something that research has shown to be particularly effective.

Research also suggests that combining behavioural interventions with traditional measures – such as tariff increases and restrictions – are often effective to reduce use in the short-term.

Real-time feedback: Cape Town is presenting the daily water level in major dams on a dashboard. This approach is consistent with research that shows that real-time information can effectively reduce water and energy consumption.

Such efforts could even be more effective if information is highlighted in relation to the critical level that’s been set for Day Zero, in this case 13.5%.

In the early days of a drought, it is also advisable to make information like this readily accessible through news outlets, social media, or even text messages. The water tracker produced by eighty20, a private Cape Town-based company, provides an example.

Social recognition: There’s evidence that efforts to celebrate successes or encourage competition can be effective – for instance, recognising neighbourhoods for meeting conservation targets. Prizes needn’t be monetary. Sometimes simple recognition, such as a certificate, can be effective.

Social recognition was found to be the most successful intervention among nine others nudges tested in research conducted in Cape Town in 2016. In this experiment, households who reduced consumption by 10% were recognised on the city’s website.

Another study showed that competition between the various floors of a government building in the Western Cape led to energy savings of up to 14%.

Cooperation: In the months ahead, the city would also do well to consider the support it might offer to encourage cooperation, particularly as the situation becomes more acute and as tensions rise.

Past studies have shown that social reputation and efforts to promote reciprocity can go a long way to encourage cooperation. The point is argued in a recent article featuring the importance of cooperation among Capetonians across different income groups.

Some residents of Cape Town are already pushing for a cooperative approach such as helping neighbours who might have difficulty travelling to collection points. Support for these efforts should be an important part of policies in the run up to Day Zero. These are often the examples that provide bright spots in challenging times.

Research also suggests that to navigate moments of crisis effectively, clear and trustworthy communication is critical. This also needs to be a priority….(More)“.

The nation that thrived by ‘nudging’ its population

Sarah Keating at the BBC: “Singapore has grown from almost nothing in 50 years. And this well-regarded society has been built up, partly, thanks to the power of suggestion….But while Singapore still loves a public campaign, it has moved toward a more nuanced approach of influencing the behaviours of its inhabitants.

Nudging the population isn’t uniquely Singaporean; more than 150 governments across the globe have tried nudging as a better choice. A medical centre in Qatar, for example, managed to increase the uptake of diabetes screening by offering to test people during Ramadan. People were fasting anyway so the hassle of having to not eat before your testing was removed. It was convenient and timely, two key components to a successful nudge.

Towns in Iceland, India and China have trialed ‘floating zebra crossings’ – 3D optical illusions which make the crossings look like they are floating above the ground designed to urge drivers to slow down. And in order to get people to pay their taxes in the UK, people were sent a letter saying that the majority of taxpayers pay their taxes on time which has had very positive results. Using social norms make people want to conform.

In Singapore some of the nudges you come across are remarkably simple. Rubbish bins are placed away from bus stops to separate smokers from other bus users. Utility bills display how your energy consumption compares to your neighbours. Outdoor gyms have been built near the entrances and exits of HDB estates so they are easy to use, available and prominent enough to consistently remind you. Train stations have green and red arrows on the platform indicating where you should stand so as to speed up the alighting process. If you opt to travel at off-peak times (before 0700), your fare is reduced.

And with six out of 10 Singaporeans eating at food courts four or more times a week, getting people to eat healthier is also a priority. As well as the Healthier Dining Programme, some places make it cheaper to take the healthy option. If you’re determined to eat that Fried Bee Hoon at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, for example, you’re going to have to pay more for it.

The National Steps Challenge, which encourages participants to get exercising using free step counters in exchange for cash and prizes, has been so successful that the programme name has been trademarked. This form of gamifying is one of the more successful ways of engaging users in achieving objectives. Massive queues to collect the free fitness tracker demonstrated the programme’s popularity.

And it’s not just in tangible ways that nudges are being rolled out. Citizens pay into a mandatory savings programme called the Central Provident Fund at a high rate. This can be accessed for healthcare, housing and pensions as a way to get people to save long-term because evidence has shown that people are too short-sighted when it comes to financing their future

And as the government looks to increase the population 30% by 2030, the city-state’s ageing population and declining birth rate is a problem. The Baby Bonus Scheme goes some way to encouraging parents to have more children by offering cash incentives. Introduced in 2001, the scheme means that all Singapore citizens who have a baby get a cash gift as well as a money into a Child Development Account (CDA) which can be used to pay for childcare and healthcare. The more children you have, the more money you get – since March 2016 you get a cash gift of $8,000 SGD (£4,340) for your first child and up to $10,000 (£5,430) for the third and any subsequent children, as well as money into your CDA.

So do people like being nudged? Is there any cultural difference in the way people react to being swayed toward a ‘better’ choice or behaviour? Given the breadth of the international use of behavioural insights, there is relatively little research done into whether people are happy about it….(More)”.

Big data and food retail: Nudging out citizens by creating dependent consumers

Michael Carolan at GeoForum: “The paper takes a critical look at how food retail firms use big data, looking specifically at how these techniques and technologies govern our ability to imagine food worlds. It does this by drawing on two sets of data: (1) interviews with twenty-one individuals who oversaw the use of big data applications in a retail setting and (2) five consumer focus groups composed of individuals who regularly shopped at major food chains along Colorado’s Front Range.

For reasons described below, the “nudge” provides the conceptual entry point for this analysis, as these techniques are typically expressed through big data-driven nudges. The argument begins by describing the nudge concept and how it is used in the context of retail big data. This is followed by a discussion of methods.

The remainder of the paper discusses how big data are used to nudge consumers and the effects of these practices. This analysis is organized around three themes that emerged out of the qualitative data: path dependency, products; path dependency, retail; and path dependency, habitus. The paper concludes connecting these themes through the concept of governance, particularly by way of their ability to, in Foucault’s (2003: 241) words, have “the power to ‘make’ live and ‘let’ die” worlds….(More)”.