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Leverage THESE Behavioral Levers for Social Impact

The process of devising an effective social intervention encompasses repeated cycles of diagnosing, designing, delivering, and testing. It is dominated by actively listening and rigorous testing. This post talks about how to leverage behavioral levers to unlock greater social impact.

Have you ever had a day(s) where everything feels superfluous and you can barely sit yourself down to write one sentence for the one project laying on your table?

Iā€™d enjoy a relaxing breakfast, grab a coffee, open my laptop up, drop my rear end onto the edge of my seat and shoot right back up to get more coffee. Or clean my table. Or scroll through LinkedIn (I deleted other social medias for this very same reason!). Or sink into a vivid daydream.

Traditional economics assumes that people behave rationally with the end goal of maximizing their economic well-being. However, recent research indicates otherwise. In fact, studies in both psychology and economics suggest that we often behave in conflict with our self-interest, even when we commit to behaving otherwise.

To this end, behavioral economics emerged as a field of study, underlined by the notion that humans are not perfect decision-makers (how surprising šŸ˜‰ !!).

Unfortunately, the downfalls of human nature is larger than all of us. Not only do we occasionally engage in bad decision-making that detriment ourselves, we sometimes do so at the expense of those around us. This is doubly frustrating when the consequences are clear as day.

Now, I am not talking about conversations with climate change deniers and global warming skeptics, which frankly, is a black hole in and of itself.

I am talking about everyone (myself included), who, understanding the outcome of climate change, still leave those plugs in, let the water run, use that plastic straw offered at the restaurant. I am talking about people who want to contribute positively to social welfare, yet unintentionally do otherwise.

This makes social impact projects particularly difficult to facilitate. Beyond the climate discourse, health epidemics and other socioeconomic conditions continue to grapple with society. HIV/AIDS, diarrhea, malaria, acute respiratory infections, and tuberculosis contribute to 13 million deaths per year. Yet, many of these conditions can be addressed with simple and affordable solutions, such as the use of mosquito nets to reduce the spread of malaria, condoms to prevent the transmission of HIV and AIDs, and water purification tablets to avert deadly water-borne diseases. In addition to health, the lack of education greatly limits community and national development. Yet, effective educational material and systems are plentiful.

The conventional response to these conditions is to call for greater financial resources, seek out tech-oriented solutions, and stimulate additional forms of humanitarian intervention. However, the problems discussed above already have plenty of resources and effective technological solutions. In fact, the Global Fund invests around US $4 billion a year to fight HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria.

Clearly, financial resources and technological solutions are not always the bottleneck.

So, now what?

Traditional social impact projects within the international development sphere are orchestrated through a top-down approach. Organizations often engage in a solution-driven mentality, which means that products, services, and methodologies are largely conceptualized with a pre-defined solution in mind.

However, a solution-driven approach can overshadow user needs. Developing a mechanism without a holistic, challenge-oriented perspective will misconstrue cultural and socioeconomic nuances. Ultimately, it may result in solutions that are ineffective and/or not accepted by the community. As such, it is extremely important to implement design thinking principles when formulating a social impact project, so to ensure sustainability and longevity.

Prioritizing Impact in Project Development

The kick-off point is that end-users should become active participates in the co-production of challenge-driven solutions. This involves rigorous diagnoses of the problem by assessing user needs, preferences, and behavior through qualitative and quantitative research.

Secondly, the co-produced interventions should align with natural behavioral tendencies. We should actively leverage the psychological aspects of behavior and combine it with economic structures and toolkits to facilitate positive behavioral changes. Some mechanisms include price setting and incentive designs, which we will discuss further below. This will increase the likelihood of intervention adoption and habit-forming behavior.

Third, the solutions need to be implemented with the external environment in mind. This implementation process must be conducted through a systems approach, where Communities of Practices and user engagement are continuously part of the equation. This is where an impact-driven project management framework can come in full swing.

Fourth, impact-driven solutions must be tested through a scientific process so to ensure needed iteration to achieve the most optimal outcome. Importantly, the evaluation process can itself be subjected to cognitive biases and logical fallacies. To this end, we have to proactively bias-proof ourselves and our team.

Lastly, once these co-produced social impact trials are scientifically sound, we can formulate policy recommendations and/or engage in upscaling efforts.

The process of devising an effective social intervention is essentially repeated cycles of diagnosing, designing, delivering, and testing. It is dominated by actively listening and rigorous testing.

Behavioural Levers for Social Impact

Back to the basic downfalls of the human condition.

Thankfully, all is not lost. For unintentional dwellers like myself, there are a number of devices to combat the specs of human nature. Below are a number of discussion points and behavioral levers that one can use, to shape user engagement on social impact projects.

Time Inconsistency/Present Bias:

The behavioral tendency is to emphasize the present and discount the future. This is exemplified through situations like low savings rates, low demand for preventive health care, and the lack of prioritization of education in certain contexts

Behavioral levers for social impact that can be used to address time inconsistency:

  • Public commitments or contracts
  • Loss aversion: financial commitments or community engagement
  • Default options: having participants “opt in” or “opt out” depending on the situation (opting out of organ donation instead of opting in)
  • Reduce present cost and increase present benefit: reward system
Application for personalApplication for project
Let’s say that you want to be more consistent at recycling. Using behavioral levers that tackle time inconsistency, you can:

1. make a verbal commitment to your family & friends (social approval)
2. reward yourself for consistency to increase present benefit of recycling-such as a fresh juice or a nice meal
What if you had to tackle present bias in a community setting? It is then extremely important to understand what can effectively incentivize the end-users. Let’s say they community-driven. Then:

1. commitment devices with peer-to-peer checkups
2. community-based program that show immediate impact from recycling
Recycling Case Study

Limited Attention

We all suffer from a limited attention span and can only process a certain amount of information at a given time. In addition to (sometimes)a lack of will, there are barriers to engage as a result of subliminal drivers, the tendency to forget, and normal habits overtaking conscious behavior.

Behavioral levers for social impact that can be used to address limited attention:

  • Reminder in place
  • Automatic default system
  • Automatic transactions
  • Make the initial steps easy to follow
  • Mental accounting and labeling
Application for personalApplication for project
Let’s say that you want to be more consistent at saving electricity. Using behavioral levers that tackle limited attention, you can:

1. set up reminders to turn off the lights and unplug un-used electronics
2. discuss with family members so everyone can be involved with mutual reminders and collectively form good habits
What if you had to tackle limited attention in a project setting? Again, let’s say they are community-driven. Then:

1. community-based scheduled reminders
2. electricty-saving as part of a community-based learning to strengthen knowledge and enact conscious behavior
Electricity Saving Case Study

Pro-social Motivation

The human desire for social approval and comparison, as well as our intrinsic nature to help others.

Behavioral levers for social impact that can be used to leverage pro-social motivation

  • Leverage social inclusion, CoPs to build momentum for social change: community-based engagements
  • Let people see the impact of their behavior: social recognition and award system
  • Promote small-scale, service-oriented behavior
Application for personalApplication for project
Let’s say that you want to be more consistent at volunteering. Using behavioral levers that leverage pro-social motivation, you can:

1. engage with friends/find like-minded individuals that prioritze volunteering
What if you want to leverage pro-social motivation in a project setting? Again, let’s say they are community-driven. Then:

1. social recognition for volunteering
Volunteering Case Study

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