B4Development takes on complex challenges in 2020
By Dr Fadi Makki
In 2020, B4Development entered its fifth year of operation as a legacy project of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) and as the first behavioural insights and nudge unit in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. The past 12 months, even in the midst of a pandemic, marked a continued focus on capacity building at scale and experimentation around complex issues both locally and globally.
In Qatar, we hit the ground running at the start of the year by building capacity with young people to impart an affinity for evidence-based and effective behaviourally informed solutions. In January, we partnered with the Qatar Academy for Science and Technology (QAST) on a pioneering behavioural economics course for secondary school students as part of a larger initiative between Qatar Foundation (QF) and the SC. The course provided a unique platform for students to learn about behavioural economics principles for the design and implementation of experiments targeting health behaviour that align with Qatar’s National Vision 2030.
Globally, as part of our continued investment in scaling our thought leadership platform, we rolled out a new mentorship programme to guide partnering organisations in embedding behavioural insights in their work. Together with Nudge Lebanon, we forged a partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to train staff across three Central Asian field offices in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan to run experiments of their own, while providing continuous support through the implementation of the experiments.
With less than two years to go until the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, we have started collaborations on tournament-related affairs, piloting and testing what works to inform policies and programmes. At the same time, we have continued working closely with SC legacy initiative, Generation Amazing (GA), to inform their work through experimentation; in particular their football for development programmes in Qatar and beyond, specifically by developing innovative ways to inform their monitoring and evaluation activities.
Finally, 2020 stood out for our strengthened experimental work in more complex policy challenges, notably around mental health, COVID-related behaviours and violent extremism. In July, we carried out a Knowledge Attitudes and Practices (KAP) survey with the Ministry of Public Health to complement the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak response in Qatar and to better inform national communication efforts.
Additionally, we collaborated with researchers at the London School of Economics and Political Science and Nudge Lebanon on a regional study evaluating national COVID-19 stringency measures in the Middle East along with a pilot survey on prevention behaviours. Results from our survey found that among respondents from the region, the United States and the United Kingdom, higher risk perceptions of the virus were associated with better adherence to preventive behaviours, though compliance significantly decreased with time.
Our study provides evidence for what we have seen happening all over the world as the pandemic drags on—while more stringent measures are effective in reducing positive COVID-19 cases, prolonged measures may backfire as compliance is likely to decrease over time due to behavioural fatigue.
This year, we also piloted groundbreaking work on the application of behavioural insights for the prevention of violent extremism (PVE) through a collaborative game that provides “psychological vaccination” against recruiters’ attempts to target vulnerable groups, which was developed alongside researchers from the University of Cambridge and Nudge Lebanon.
We have also successfully hosted our behavioral economics summit, BX Arabia, as a virtual event this year. The summit brought together prominent speakers, most notably, Hassan Al Thawadi, SC Secretary General, Cass Sunstein, Harvard Professor and co-author of ‘Nudge’, as well as, Dilip Soman, Director of the Behavioral Economics in Action Research Centre at Rotman.
As the use of behavioural insights around the globe is spreading, a key focus for B4Development going forward is to strengthen our capacity building service offerings to benefit government agencies around the region. To do this, it is imperative to forge closer collaborations with strategic partners, such as NGOs and UN organisations, to facilitate greater adoption of behavioural sciences tools and methods, as well as strengthen evidence-based policymaking in the quest of a greater social impact.