EGAP researchers: Graeme Blair, Elizabeth Levy Paluck
Other authors: Rebecca Littman
Geographic location: Africa
Research question: What motivates the first adopters of community-minded behaviors?
Preparer: Catlan Reardon
The study was conducted in the Niger Delta region in southeastern Nigeria, a country that suffers from endemic corruption. Nigerians consistently report corruption as being an important issue facing their country. Eighty percent of citizens believe government officials are corrupt and report being angry about paying bribes. Yet, despite corruption being a salient issue, corruption reporting is rare: previous nationwide campaigns yielded no more than 140 reports per year, out of a population of nearly 200 million. In this context, the authors implement a two-prong field experiment aimed at shifting norms about the prevalence of corruption reporting, and at reducing the barriers to reporting using a nudge.
The study was conducted in four states of the Niger Delta (Akwa Ibom, Bayela, Delta, and Rivers). Within those states, sample communities were selected based on the GPS coordinates of mobile phone towers. The study was conducted in 106 communities selected such that they were sufficiently separated to avoid spillovers. Two surveys (baseline and endline) were conducted in each community with approximately 15 randomly-selected individuals.
The interventions included two campaigns advertising the study’s corruption reporting platform: a feature-length film with a treatment and placebo version, and a mass text message. Both versions of the film included corruption as a key storyline. The treatment version of the film included scenes showing the actors reporting corruption using the study’s texting platform. The control version removed the scenes modeling corruption reporting. The film campaign aimed to shift the perceived norm that corruption reporting was rare. The mass text message, on the other hand, sought to reduce the barriers to reporting via a nudge. The text message provided an opportunity to report corruption by simply hitting reply.
To assess the effect of the campaigns on the perceived norms of corruption reporting and on actual reporting to the text platform, the authors randomized whether the 106 communities received the treatment or placebo film, the date they received the film, and the timing of the mass text message. Prior to randomization, communities were blocked into similar pairs using pre-treatment measures. Within each pair, one community was randomly assigned to the treatment condition and the other to the placebo condition.
In the 106 sampled communities, a total of 1,181 unique individuals texted about corruption or the study’s campaigns, including 241 unique individuals who texted about a tangible act of corruption. To put this in context, the interventions rolled out in a set of small communities in four states produced 1.7 times as many corruption reports in seven months as the previous one year of a nationwide corruption reporting campaign. The film treatment did not augment the effects of the text message campaign. Communities that received the treatment film responded similarly to the mass text message as those communities that received the placebo film. The authors estimate a response rate between the range of approximately 1 out of 605 people to 1 out of 145 people sending a corruption-related text. Importantly, the treatment effects were accompanied by a shift in perceived norms about how common corruption is and subsequent feelings of anger rather than a shift in perceived norms about the commonality or desirability of reporting itself.
The study focuses on uncovering how new community-minded behaviors such as corruption reporting are adopted. Early adopters face significant costs and risks when the behavior is rare. As such, it is important to understand the conditions under which these types of behaviors become widely adopted and supported, particularly for organizations trying to motivate voluntary contributions to communities or public goods. The study shows that the interventions led to higher rates of corruption reporting than those of previous campaigns. The authors suggest that the reason for this higher adoption rate had more to do with the campaign’s effect on people’s anger about and perception of the prevalence of corruption, rather than its effect on people’s perception of the prevalence of corruption reporting.