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Monday, 5 January 2015

World Bank issues major report on behavioural factors and development

Last month the World Bank issued its World Development Report 2015: Mind, Society, and Behavior (their [US] spelling!). Interestingly, for an organisation which has often been associated with the standard economic orthodoxy, this report recognises that people do not always make deliberative, independent decisions based on careful self-interested calculations.

Instead, taking its cue from the behavioural sciences/behavioural economics the report notes that people often think quickly, use mental shortcuts and rely on shared mindsets. As the report states, by factoring this in, governments and other actors can design (development) programs that make it easier for individuals to cooperate in the pursuit of shared goals.

The report relates to areas such as early childhood development, productivity, household finance, health and health care and climate change, and includes case studies where development work has incorporated findings from behavioural science, using techniques such as framing, default setting, the importance of social norms, the use of commitment devices and recognising that timing matters, due to cognitive and mental depletion in decision making.

The report outlines three principles of human decision making: thinking automatically, thinking socially, and thinking with mental models. The consequences are that: much of human thinking is automatic and depends on whatever comes to mind most effortlessly; people are deeply social and will tend to cooperate as long as others do too, and we are highly influenced by social networks and norms; and most people do not invent new concepts, rather they use mental models drawn from their societies and shared histories to interpret their experiences.

As the report notes, focusing more closely on correctly defining and diagnosing problems can lead to better designed interventions. The report cautions that even experts’ initial assumptions about the causes of behaviour can be wrong, which means that it’s important to run pilots and trials to test a range of interventions. An important finding for politicians, policy makers and behaviour change specialists – and not just those involved in development work. Full report here

At Behaviour Workshops we run training workshops which draw on many of the tools and techniques featured in the World Bank report – providing insights and applications from behavioural economics and social marketing which can help organisations meet their objectives in a more cost-effective way. More information on a typical workshop here. There is an independent review of one of our workshops here on the Comms2pointO website by Carolyne Mitchell of South Lanarkshire Council, who commissioned it. 

You can contact us at or by calling 0845 094 5581.

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