Nudging People Towards Desired Behaviors with Choice Architecture

On July 28, Jennefer Sebstad and Cristina Manfre presented at Breakfast Seminar #61. Their presentation, “Behavior Change Perspectives on Gender and Value Chain Development,” reflected their work in the Ghanaian citrus and the Kenyan sweet potato value chains. Throughout their research, Sebstad and Manfre were focused on the barriers and development constraints that especially prevent women from upgrading. These barriers often fall into three behavioral categories: Money Management, Business Practices, and Value Chain Relationships. For a summary of the presenters’ framework—which includes these categories along with the behaviors related to upgrading, incentives to change, and factors that support or impede change—check out slide #6 of their presentation.

Upgrading means making “changes that improve the performance and competitiveness of value chains through improved processes, products, functions, or new business models.”
– Jennefer Sebstad

Throughout the presentation, Sebstad and Manfre discussed the importance of thoughtful “choice architecture,” where program implementers work to create options and set up appropriate incentives (both push and pull) to “nudge” people into desired behaviors. One participant joked during the Q&A that perhaps the women can be nudged, but maybe the men need to be shoved, especially when it comes to social norms around gender. Manfre’s response was to challenge the “stickiness” of belief. Sometimes, she argued, changing what we may think of as a deeply ingrained cultural practice may be as easy as helping people envision what a different status quo might look like, either through education and awareness campaigns or simply by providing different types of incentives. For example, control over agriculture income often falls to men in Ghana and Kenya, even if the women are doing the farming, because payments are deposited into bank accounts held by men. But, Manfre often observed that husbands weren’t aware that they could hold joint accounts with their wives and did not object to doing so once they learned of the possibility.

To take this example one step further, Sebstad suggested that one possible experiment in integrating choice architecture into upgrading a project may involve setting up bank accounts that receive agriculture payments as joint accounts by default and letting either spouse opt out if they prefer. Some of the other system changes that the presenters mentioned as important for upgrading included:

  • electronic savings systems,
  • mobile payment systems like Kenya’s famed M-Pesa,
  • increased involvement of women in agriculture input supply,
  • inclusion of hired labor (which is especially important to women smallholders) in training and extension, and
  • promotion of women’s access to farmers groups.

The presenters closed by calling for additional research on the “overlap between social and commercial networks” and what the risk might be for women who move beyond social networks.

Leave a Comment

Register or Sign In to comment.