Nudging Qatar into Economic Development
Author: Bhavika Agrawal
Research Director: Keeven Cheong Aik Wei
The nation with the highest per capita income in the world is facing a dilemma. Qatar has been facing shortcomings in the education sphere, health sector, and labour industry. With the growing use of behavioural economics in policy-making, B4Development Foundation was set up in 2016 as the Qatar Behavioural Insights Unit (QBIU).
With the objective of ‘promoting evidence-based policies to address challenges with behavioural roots’ (B4Development, 2022), B4D has undertaken numerous projects to alleviate some of the plights. Through this article, I intend to analyse the role of nudge units in government policies, delving deeper into their impact of it on Qatar and concluding if these units are as effective as they claim.
When policymakers previously witnessed low enrolment rates or smaller than expected effects, they simply resorted to increased incentives and greater outreach. However, recently, they found a more effective but low-cost alternative to better policies; nudges.
Nudging is a branch of behavioural science that, coupled with public policy, uses psychological and economic insights to influence the behaviours of the target audience to achieve a certain goal. Simply put, they are a method of gently guiding the public in the right direction (Ong, 2019).
One of the first countries to have integrated nudges into their policymaking by setting up a special unit to guide them was the United Kingdom. They witnessed positive results such as improved tax compliance by £30 million per year and an increase in fine payment rates, saving them £30 million a year through the application of nudges in their public policies (Center for Public Impact, 2016). When the ripples of its success story reached the world, the use of nudges in policymaking became widespread, encouraging other governments to set up such nudge units within their institutions.
Nudge Ripple Effect Throughout Qatar
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region saw the establishment of its first nudge unit in Qatar by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy in 2016. B4Development, was set up as the in-charge of infrastructure and legacy of the 2022 FIFA World Cup but expanded its roots over the next few months and undertook experiments in education, healthy lifestyle, and worker’s welfare.
One of their biggest undertakings was the behavioural intervention in collaboration with the Qatar Green Building Council. Their studies found that smaller plate size reduces food waste by up to 30% per person. When implemented in their Eco-Schools Sustainability Programme, a similar outcome was witnessed, further substantiating their findings. The small size of the plate deterred individuals from over-filling their plates and throwing the extra food away. The unit thus aimed to implement this idea in all future government events.
Furthermore, they achieved better quality of complaints in the Worker’s Welfare Forum through interventions that encouraged the workers to report their grievances more often. This was done by handing out behaviorally informed notebooks and ‘salient, multi-lingual leaflets and posters that were dispatched in select accommodation sites’. This intervention saw a 40% increase in the number of complaints per worker as workers had previously been unaware of the policies reinstated for their wellbeing.
With the Covid-19 pandemic in effect, the unit collaborated with the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) to boost the vaccination rates in the country and encourage citizens to adhere to the Covid protocol. They did so through the use of emotional appeal and messengers. The success of these initiatives led to plans to use similar tools to ensure that safe distancing protocols would be followed in the FIFA World Cup. The intention would be for the mega event to set an example for future sports events.
Lastly, they have undertaken multiple interventions in the education and professional sphere. Besides hosting international summits, it has launched experiments aimed at ameliorating learning outcomes for future professionals. For instance, they conducted a study in collaboration with LSE to test the impact of recall exercises on learning outcomes for entrepreneurs and found that the retrieval practice would be a powerful tool to improve learning.
The governmental interventions through tiny nudges have led to behavioural changes on a larger scale to address all those areas. While some of the above issues may seem insignificant, the fact remains that these practices have led to higher efficiency in all spheres of public life.
Future outlook of B4Development
2021 was of great significance to the Nudge Unit. Not only did they initiate more experiments, but they also made huge strides in areas like recycling and transportation which have shown positive results. Additionally, for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, they are preparing to deliver an optimum experience for the projected one million visitors for the mega event by interventions in tournament elements such as recycling, littering, and commuting.
Looking forward, the committee envisages growing the use of behavioural science in more sectors of the economy by implementing more experiments on a larger scale. The success of the policy will be determined by whether citizens are receptive to the ideas and how the committee can integrate the nudges into their daily lives by tailoring them according to the audience.
B4D is also working towards establishing more such organizations in other countries in the region and has started working with the Pakistan government to establish the MindLab Behavioral Insights Unit under the Department of Finance.
Is Behavioral Science faux?
Behavioural Science has only begun gaining traction a few years ago. Every individual wants to know more about it, every industry wants to invest in it, and every government wants to integrate it into its policymaking. The challenge arises when the public starts to question its authenticity due to the non-existence of a set method of implementing the theory, questioning the results from the experiments.
Despite these criticisms, there is adequate proof from implementation in other nations, proving that if used correctly, the novel theory yields great results. The Behavioral Insights Unit in Qatar, though recently established, has shown positive signs in its implementation in various undertakings. Only when the results of these experiments are viewed through a nationwide lens will one truly know their effectiveness.
B4Development. (n.d.). Experiments with impact – B4Development. Retrieved February 28, 2022, from http://b4development.org/experiments/
Centre For Public Impact. (2016, March 31). The Behavioural Insights Team in the UK. Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://www.centreforpublicimpact.org/case-study/behavioural-insights-team-in-the-uk
Gulf Times. (2021, November 3). Qatar 2022 legacy programme supports the launch of MindLab Behavioural Insights Unit. https://www.gulf-times.com/story/703758/Qatar-2022-legacy-programme-supports-launch-of-Min
Makki, F. (2021, December 28). B4 Development makes giant strides in 2021. Qatar 2022™. https://www.qatar2022.qa/en/news/B4-Development-makes-giant-strides-in-2021
Qiyan, O. (2019, November 12). How to Nudge Better in Public Policy. Civil Service College. https://www.csc.gov.sg/articles/how-to-nudge-better-in-public-policy