A little “nudging” can help reduce risky behavior

I had an opportunity to bid farewell to one of my departed neighbors who perished in a recent car accident that claimed the lives of 5 women on A1 few km from Dibete.
Most of us have heard of horrific carnages on our roads especially the A1 and one wonders, are the strategies or the type of communication that we use to drive certain desirable behavior (e.g. Don’t drink and drive/Speed kills) effective? Have we done any communication audit to pin point or identify catchy phrases which are effective in driving the message home and ultimately changing behavior to the one we see as appropriate? The issue of communication that seek to achieve positive change in behavior does not only apply to road usage, instead there are other societal challenges that are so topical and requiring what I now refer to as communication audit on how messages addressing these challenges are structured. These include but not limited to use of drugs, teenage pregnancy, spread of HIV/AIDS and so on.
Organizations either private, governmental, NGOs achieve their objectives by changing behavior of targeted market or influencing potential customers to comply with their demands.  For example, the health ministry may want to influence the public to donate more blood so our blood bank is sufficient all the time, so does the transport and safety department trying to influence the public to drive with caution to keep our roads safe or a bank encouraging people to save for rainy days and avoid being indebted.
Nudging is a new way of thinking about persuasion and influence and its origins according to renowned psychologists lies in discoveries about how the human brain work.
Human brain is like an iceberg, an iceberg has 2 parts, the piece that is visible and it is usually referred or described a tip of iceberg, the other part is submerged in water and is not visible with the naked eye. The tip of the iceberg is usually tiny as described “tip” whereas the larger part which is submerged in water is usually larger. The tip is therefore the rational or the conscious part of the brain whereas the submerged part is the irrational or the subconscious part of the brain. Psychologists further distinguish the two parts of the brain: Slow, reflective, rational thinking (tip) and fast, automatic, intuitive thinking (submerged). These two kinds of mental activities are the work of two parts of the brain. The two parts of the brain swing into different kinds of action to accomplish different tasks. The larger part of the brain operates quickly and automatically and requires no efforts on your part and the tip is slower and voluntary. For example, imagine you were walking in the bush and you see a snake and most of us will immediately run for dear life and that is the submerged, subconscious, involuntary part of the brain swinging into action. If you say to yourself I’m going to standstill and pretend to be stem of the tree so the snake passes by me, that is the tip, conscious and voluntary part of the brain being engaged. Driving is also another example where subconscious and submerged part of the brain is engaged, you hit the road and within few seconds you are in gear 5 subconsciously without any effort. If I ask you to figure out 67 multiplied by 23, you will slowly make a conscious effort, get a pen and will rely on the tip.
Most of the decisions that we make in our lives are a result of the submerged part of the brain in action, the decisions are subconscious although as humans we are expected to be rational all the times before making decisions.  We are susceptible to cognitive biases therefore we can be nudged. Neuro-marketers take advantage of this arrangement in our everyday lives. If a marketer advertises a product and tells you 1 million units sold in a week, you subconsciously assume it’s a good product or brand and you feel safe to go with the masses. Publishers will tell you in the cover of a book that 3.5 million copies have been sold. You end up buying something you don’t need just because everyone is going for it. It’s called Herd instinct or pluralistic ignorance. You have been nudged. If our agencies which are tasked or mandated to drive certain behavior to archive certain objectives (your MVA, NACAs, MoH, DTRS) are aware of this concept they can properly employ nudges and help people to improve their lives and solve many societal challenges. We have in the past debated about the billboard at the Sir Seretse  Khama International Airport next to one of the carousel which say a certain number of people die in our roads every day. The debate was whether the communication or the messaging was structured in an effective manner? Can it bring about a positive change of behavior? Or “Speed Kills don’t be a statistic” billboard. Let’s flip the coin and imagine this; Say in 2016 we had 25 crashes per 100,000 vehicles on A1, which is 0.025%%, we then structure the message like “99.9% of drivers are driving cautiously”. By this communication, you triggering a subconscious response or mental short cut of social proof or herd instinct, who wouldn’t want to go with the masses? MoH can do the same thing triggering a social proof mental short cut in their advertisements by telling men that 5000 men got circumcised in a particular week. If you can take advantage of how the human mind works and use that to help people make better decisions to improve their lives that is nudging.
Finding a way to identify effective means of communication or advertisement to generate appropriate behavioral change is still within grasp if we give ourselves chance and study the human mind to bring change and improve lives of our people.