Column Series: Applying Behaviour Design to Development Cooperation: Opportunity and the Role of Cities by Yusuke Takagi 1


‘New values are generated between different systems, where inter-cultural friction arises’. These are the words of Professor Ueno during the commencement ceremony at the University of Tokyo[1] when explaining the importance of diversity. If this also applies to the generation of innovation, what elements (systems) should be blended with behavioural insight (BI) for further social innovation?

In this series of columns, I will present the potential elements that might cause synergetic impact with BI, placing a particular focus on the development context.

1. Behavioural insight and city-to-city development cooperation

Behavioural insight is increasingly being applied by local and municipal governments. The UK Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) states, ‘Local government finds itself on the front line of some of society’s most significant challenges.’[2] Accordingly, in order to tackle such challenges, they are increasingly trying out BI solutions to figure out what works and what does not in the actual field. In this regard, the municipal policy domain, where theory, field and practice are merged, is seen as an area where innovation can thrive. In this sense, knowledge and know-how on BI, which might make a critical difference on the ground, are expected to be accumulated within local and municipal government. If this is the case, how can we utilize this valuable source of expertise?

Increasing the necessity for city-to-city cooperation

One of the potential systems that might leverage the impact of BI would be ‘city-to-city cooperation’. In recent years, the role of cities in the global sphere is becoming increasingly significant. According to the United Nations in 2018, the world’s urban population has risen to 55% of the global population, overtaking the world’s rural population[3]. Hence, for more than half of the world’s population, the quality of life is highly dependent upon city governments. Our lives are supported by various aspects of urban policy, including environmental protection, water supply and sewage, solid waste management and social welfare. The increasing expectations placed upon city governments were also highlighted by ‘The Paris City Hall Declaration’ in 2015, which was signed by the representatives of cities, regions and local governments from around the world and is expected to bring a significant impact on global GHG emission reductions towards a low-carbon future[4].

In such a circumstance, city-to-city development cooperation, the attempt of sharing expertise on urban development and urban management between cities is seen as an effective approach to enable cities in the developing world to realize so-called ‘leapfrog’ growth. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) articulates that Japanese municipalities have accumulated know-how and human resources on service provision to communities and citizens, and these aspects are highly valuable for local authorities in developing countries.[5] Based on this assumption, the City of Yokohama is actively working on city-to-city development cooperation in various fields such as climate change, water supply, wastewater treatment, solid waste management and port development.

Synergy between behavioural insight and city-to-city cooperation

Currently, city-to-city cooperation focuses on the construction and maintenance of urban infrastructure and urban planning in general. The City of Yokohama presently provides infrastructure development support for domains such as water supply systems and waste treatment facilities and policy planning for climate change countermeasures. These cooperation approaches are sufficiently meaningful. However, when moving from planning to practice, what makes a significant difference on the ground are often small but critical interventions; for example, behavioural designs such as so-called ‘nudge’. As an example, Karlan and Appel’s (2012) report suggests that providing a school uniform and taking a group photo in a classroom could be more effective for improving education rather than building schools or working on educational systems because such approaches raise the attendance ratio of students and teachers, respectively[6][7].

If the knowledge and know-how of nudge practices are accumulated in local and municipal governments, sharing them through city-to-city cooperation may have a critical impact on social services in developing countries.

In the field of development, the so-called ‘last-one-mile’ problem (i.e. that a particularly small hurdle inhibits access to social services and threatens lives even if the solution is available) is seen as a significant challenge for human wellbeing. For instance, behavioural gaps are said to exist between safe drinking water availability and the act of drinking it. Banerjee and Duflo (2012) reported that, despite widespread access to cheap chlorine agents (which are highly useful for drinking water disinfection) being available at an affordable price in Zambia, few people use them. This issue has resulted in many cases of water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea.[8]. For such behavioural gaps, city-to-city knowledge transfer regarding nudge experiences might help city governments find appropriate solutions.

Of course, effective intervention with BI is not one size fits all and depends on each local circumstance. However, Dr. Gandy from the UK BIT argues, ‘Given the evolutionary roots of human cognition, we have not been surprised to find that people all over the world are prone to the same decision-making biases.’ He also states, ‘We share many of the same human traits and biases.’[9]. This statement suggests that knowledge transfer on both the methodology and practical application of nudge can be a driving force to overcome the last-one-mile problem and thereby make development intervention more effective and efficient.

Yusuke Takagi (YBiT member)

Edited by Mika Kunieda, Lek Hong

[1] Ueno, C. (2019) ‘Congratulatory address at undergraduate entrance ceremony at Tokyo University 2019’. [Online] Available at [Accessed September 23rd, 2019].

[2] Behavioural Insights Team (2019) ‘Local government and services’. [Online] Available from [Accessed September 23rd, 2019].

[3] The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2018) ‘2018 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects’. [Online] Available at [Accessed September 23rd, 2019].

[4] United Cities and Local Governments (2015). ‘The Paris City Hall Declaration: a decisive contribution to COP21’. [Online] Available from [Accessed September 23rd, 2019].

[5] Japan International Cooperation Agency (2019). ‘Jichitai-tono-renkei’ [in Japanese]. Available at:  [Accessed September 23rd, 2019].

[6] The experiment to reduce teachers’ absent ratio in India combined taking a group photo with a traditional incentive method. The group photo sent to NGO is reflected in teachers’ salaries as proof of teachers’ attendance.

[7] Karlan, D. and Appel, J. (2012). ‘More Than Good Intentions: Improving the Ways the World’s Poor Borrow, Save, Farm, Learn, and Stay Healthy’, Boston: Dutton.

[8] Banerjee, A, V. and Duflo, E. (2012) ‘Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty’. New York: Public Affairs.

[9] Gandy, K. (2019). ‘Using behavioural insights in development’. Apolitical. Available at:  [Accessed September 23rd, 2019].

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  1. ピンバック: 行動デザインの開発協力への応用、その機会と都市の役割(コラム①:高木佑介) – 横浜市行動デザインチーム