How has behavioural science helped in fulfilling the ‘Clean India’ dream?


India was declared open defecation by the year-end of 2019. The findings published by the National Statistical Survey Office shows that around 71.3% of the rural households and 96.2% of the urban households had access to urban sanitation than the claimed 100%. This is still a huge leap from when the mission was introduced in 2015 when it was 43% in rural areas. The country witnessed the construction of 101.6 million new household toilets were built in rural areas along with over six million household toilets and over five lakh community toilets built in urban areas. However, the construction of toilets doesn’t mean that it was used extensively. Hence, the mission saw the introduction of ‘Behavioural Science’ principles in order to maximise the success of the mission.

The mission has started with the use of ‘Prospect Theory’ that is people are risk-averse and would greater lengths to minimise the risk even if the opposite situation meant them reaping more benefits. But, when the outcome is negative they become risk-seeking. The government through its various campaigns highlighted the ills of open defecation and made people aware that if they didn’t defecate in the closed built toilets they posed a greater threat to various diseases. Hence when posed with a negative outcome the rural households were ready to let go of their biases of not building a toilet inside their home. The government began by organising ‘Swachhata Divas’ and ‘Swachhata Pakhwadas’, by which SBM leveraged the ‘Fresh Start Effect’ to persuade people to overcome present biases in favour of decisions which are good for them in long run. This was done in order to ensure that people stick to safe sanitation even when that meant letting go of the existing framework. 

In order to increase accountability within the urban local bodies and Panchayati Raj Institutions, the department of drinking water and sanitation carries out a Swacchta Survekshan Evaluation on a yearly basis in order to rank the cities and villages on how they are faring. It gave a strong impetus to citizen feedback and independent observation but not much waste management and disposal as manual scavenging is still labour oriented. Recently Harpic launched a toilet college in Aurangabad to educate the labourers about the use of different machines to manage waste collection and disposal.

The mission also had an interesting component where the ‘call of action’ was made easier so as to ensure that ULBs function more efficiently. It has Swachhagrahis who are the sanitation soldiers and the Swacchta app that was rolled out by the ministry that aims to point out delay in garbage collection, lack of water supply in public toilets, dead animals, public toilet blockage, cleaning of public toilets and uncleared dustbins.

Using techniques such as piggyback on other existing behaviours and cues such as building community toilets on the existing pathway used for open defecation or where women gather daily chores, ritualised messages in the change process through various media(e.g. Toilet ek Prem Katha) that highlights the importance of toilet in a societal structure and how to break away from the biases.

The use of behavioural science helps in forming better policies and engages the citizens in order to maximize the benefits that could be reaped from its implementation.

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