Advances in psychology and behavioral economics have revealed the complexity of human behavior and decision-making. These insights have influenced a range of policies, impacting everything from how policy-makers encourage adoption of more environmentally friendly behaviors to the design of airport bathrooms. Some countries have even established offices explicitly dedicated to using the findings from these fields in policy design.
Promoting the sustainable use of energy and natural resources in emerging economies – the fundamental goal of ISEP – depends on understanding how individuals, communities, and organizations respond to policy design. Sustainable energy policies only work when they shape human behavior in a way that contributes to universal energy access with minimal environmental impact.
The ISEP behavioral lab contributes this goal with novel insights into how human beings make decisions and use energy. These insights can, in turn, contribute to ISEP’s broader mission of informing sustainable energy policy.
The activities of the behavioral lab stretch from experimental design stage to informing policy. First, the lab will identify a key issue where a change in behavior is necessary for advancing ISEP’s sustainable energy goal. For example, this could involve households reducing their kerosene consumption, or using cleaner cookstoves that will reduce indoor air pollution. Second, we will work with the researcher(s) to design a suitable intervention that can influence a change in behavior. The aim is to identify a policy-relevant and theoretically significant treatment that is both internally valid and scalable. Third, we will work with our NGO partners and relevant government ministries to inform them of this proven intervention that is both desirable and feasible. Through these channels, we will apprise relevant policy makers of the study, and work with them to scale up the intervention from the ISEP behavioral lab into government policy.
The lab allows researchers to develop and test promising interventions that promote sustainable energy use. We recruit a team and procure the facilities for a highly mobile lab that can be used in a variety of field settings. The lab dramatically reduces the cost of testing behavioral interventions, allowing researchers – including graduate students and junior faculty – with limited resources to conduct experiments. ISEP’s connections with prominent NGOs and government ministries ensures that the key lessons and findings reach relevant policymakers, and that the knowledge and experience gained from these experiments accumulates over time.