Issue #12: The Future’s Looking Less WEIRD*

*WEIRD describes a social science research bias of overgeneralizing findings gathered from research that over-samples subjects who are from Western countries, are Educated and live in Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic societies.

How are you?

Are you someplace where that question can be posed in your friend’s ear over drinks at the local pub? Or someplace where vaccination cards are being bought and sold on the internet alongside weapons and wildlife? Are you someplace where that question stings like a thousand jabs to the arm? Or someplace where having enough doses for everyone would be nothing short of a miracle?

Wherever you are, we’re rooting for the health and safety of you and your loved ones. To call this moment uncertain would certainly be an understatement. Headlines with unthinkable case counts and even more unfathomable cremation sites were ubiquitous in April and May, as the Delta variant engulfed India’s health system and its people. The world has no doubt been a weird place for the last 18 months, but the field of behavioural science has been WEIRDer for longer. As Indonesia claims the horrific title of latest COVID epicentre, we’re growing increasingly impatient with behavioral science to wake up and smell its own bias.

So in this issue of the Stitch, we’re talking to Dr. Hansika Kapoor and Anirudh Tagat about their experiences as behavioural researchers in India, contributing to a field that’s been WEIRD from inception. As scientists at Mumbai-based research institution Monk Prayogshala, they’ve been hard at work throughout the pandemic, challenging Western findings and offering alternative behavioural interventions rooted in context. Hansika, Anirudh and an increasing number of practitioners like them are seizing this moment to pave a future for BS that’s accessible, collaborative, and a lot less WEIRD.

“The development of the vaccine for COVID-19 … has had spillover effects on the development of other vaccines … and I think in many ways behavioural science has really witnessed the same, pardon my language, kick in the ass.”

- Anirudh Tagat, Monk Prayogshala

Repeat after us: Behavioural insights in the Global South should be led by people in the Global South. No need to write that down, we already did. We’ve been hard at work for the past year with Busara and our friends at GAVI to bring you a comprehensive guidebook, outlining all the necessary steps and considerations to take when building a BI unit for public health in the Global South. If you’re curious, you can read the case study or just download the paper and dive straight in. Keep this message echoing through your circles by sharing our paper and advocating for leadership, funding, and research in the Global South wherever you can.

Here’s to more eye-opening and necessary conversations and many more fully-vaccinated how-are-you’s, no matter where you are in the world.

- Mike and Sherine

Spotlight: Interview with Dr. Hansika Kapoor and Anirudh Tagat

Here are four things we learnt from our conversation with Hansika and Anirudh:

1. Find Common Ground
In a place as diverse as India, developing health communications that resonate with every heartbeat and hair-do on the street is back-breaking work. But being culturally-sensitive doesn’t always mean zooming in, Hansika and Anirudh proffer quite the opposite. Their research points to the power of symbols that speak to every Indian, regardless of language, culture or creed.

2. You can’t just copy and paste
While patterns in the pavement are helping people keep their distance in Western countries, images of “Social Distancing Fails” in India went viral, showcasing the strengths and weaknesses of applied behavioural science in a pandemic. We’d argue that these people haven’t failed at social distancing, but interventions like these have failed to consider their context.

3. Great adversity fosters great innovation
The urgency to find a saving grace in this pandemic has been a renaissance for behavioural science, underscoring the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and giving quick, flexible, and affordable methods of gathering data some well-deserved time in the limelight (Sorry, RCTs).

4. Leveling the Field
Researchers across the globe who typically face financial barriers to participating in conferences, are now able to share their insights and lessons in our new status quo. Fully-remote conferences are not only saving our planet, but are giving scientists in the Global South a much-needed seat at the table.

Listen to the full interview, here.

More from Hansika and Anirudh:

The Stories We Can’t Stop Thinking About

Vaccines created equally, are not weighted equally
Ifeyani Nosofor is part of the small percentage of Africans to be fully vaccinated, and yet he and other recipients of the Covishield vaccine are barred from partaking in the global travel frenzy lead by the newly vaccinated population. Find out why.

Hummmmmmm’s the word
After hours of deliberation, a room full of web developers fill the air with a steady hum, resonating in unison to come to a consensus. As the world begins defaulting on data science and artificial intelligence to help us make sense of human behaviour, this simple verbal ritual serves as an important reminder that humans can help us better understand other humans.

Breaking bread (and biryani)
For #WorldRefugeeMonth we partnered with NaTakallam to ask refugees what brings them a sense of home, when home is a place they can’t return to. We spoke with Fanar, a refugee from Baghdad, who sees food as a way to connect to her roots and to others as her family settles into permanent residency in France. Hear her story.

The Research We’re Curious About

Health is no game, but hand-washing can be
It’s hard for kids to see the value in washing their hands, but easy for them to see the value in a toy. Researchers found that if you put a toy inside a bar of soap, kids will do anything to get to the gold, even wash their hands.

Is this nudge just for now?
Do the effects of social nudges persist? Given the resources and energy our team puts into making sure healthy behaviour lasts longer than a hiccup, we certainly hope so. This study examines whether an energy-saving social nudge has lasting effects within households, taking into account household wealth, a huge player in decision-making. Spoiler alert: perhaps our efforts aren’t all for nothing.

The Lessons That are Sticking With Us

To think outside the box, we need to rethink our boxes
Meet the limit to limitless creativity: functional fixedness. It’s the cognitive bias that allows us to fixate on what things represent over the multitude of functions they can serve. Too abstract for you? Nikola Spadina lays out the basis behind this bias with a load of fun examples on how the presentation of a problem affects how we might solve it.

An Eight-Legged Lesson in Storytelling
The 2020 oscar-winning documentary on a man’s precarious relationship with an octopus reveals more than just what lies off the shores of South Africa. It shows us the power of environmental stories that give us a subject to empathize with. Atomic stories like these could help move people to live more sustainably than, say, 90 minutes of omniscient narration over anonymous landscapes.

What’s Distracting Us From Our Work

The mental mayhem of switching browsers
So it turns out Chrome knows you like the back of it’s white-gloved cursor. The simple solution would be to switch to a more data-secure browser. But is it really all that simple? We’ve been obsessed with this playful case study that walks you through the psychological perils and pleasures of switching to Brave (a favourite amongst our team).

A lifesaver for your literature review
We’re grateful for this side-project turned public database that allows users to visualize the breadth of scientific papers within a topic or field. Gone are the days of reference lists and citation trees. This digital godsend will help you track down relevant papers that may not cite each other.

Great Work and Good Company

The Little Jab Book
COVID-19 vaccines are sitting in coolers ready to meet our upper arm muscles, but are people actually lining up to take them? We partnered with Save the Children and Busara to release a guidebook with behavioural strategies that can be adapted to help increase uptake of the vaccine in different contexts. You can download “The Little Jab Book” and read more about our partnership here.

Jim joins the pack
A long-time associate from CT’s early days joined our Core Team last month. As our newly minted Creative Director, Jim O’Neill is channeling his nearly decade-long experience in visual arts towards strengthening our brand across our various platforms and projects. And keeping us entertained with a little bit of sci-fi and a little bit of folk music, here and there.

A database for doing good
We’re sharing the floor with dozens of other organisations around the world designing for our greater good on a Social Change Design Database. But it’s no curated hot-or-not list, it’s a crowdsourced, living document to help connect people like you with groups like us. You can submit your organisation or nominate one to be featured.

This Stitch Was Produced While

Our team went out for a round of shots!

Less 🍻 and more 💉, but exciting nonetheless.

Outside the district health office in Malawi
An empty rugby stadium in Dublin
An ice hockey rink turned vaccination centre

Some memorable shot spots (From L to R): A District Health Office in Malawi, Dublin’s national rugby stadium, and an ice hockey rink in Ottawa!

Felicity smiles with her vaccination card
Sherine gets her vaccine shot
Regina smiles in front of a protect Chicago backdrop

Smiles are still contagious (From L to R): Felicity, Sherine, and Regina get their jabs!

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