Creating a Toilet Habit in Kenya

Project Summary

Public health externalities from unhygienic sanitation remain a significant development challenge, even in areas where hygienic latrines are accessible or affordable. We hypothesize that behaviors like open defecation may persist because they represent ingrained habits that are difficult to change. Inspired by findings from psychology and neuroscience, we propose field experiments that are designed to instill a revised habit of community toilet use among the slum population of Nairobi.

Our partner, Sanergy, has created a network of hygienic latrines in Nairobi, but face a challenge of low demand for the toilets. Habit loops have been successfully created by private sector firms to increase demand for many household products and behaviors such as brushing regularly with Pepsodent toothpaste, or spraying Febreze air freshener. We propose to create such a loop for Sanergy toilets using a combination of economic incentives and a marketing campaign that is attentive to psychological cues and rewards. The experiments are designed to separate habit formation from other closely related models of risk aversion and learning.

Our goal is to break the open defecation habit, and test strategies to make “using the Sanergy toilet” an automated response when people feel the urge – i.e. a new habit. These types of ideas have not been tested previously in the context of technology adoption in developing countries. If the strategy is successful, the results will have important implications for the marketing of a broad range of welfare-improving products and behaviors spanning health, agriculture and finance that evidence shows are difficult to disseminate in developing countries.

Research Partners:

Judith Chevalier (Yale University), Johann Caro Burnett (Yale University), Berhe Beyene (JPAL), Sanergy