Opening the black box of information interventions: Evidence from India

Information and communication interventions often rely on social mobilisation to promote the adoption of environmental health technologies in developing countries. Yet, the mechanisms by which these interventions mobilise households to adopt are often insufficiently or poorly understood.

Given the slow and low response to many environmental health technologies (e.g., bed nets, latrines, cookstoves), a more complete understanding of these mechanisms is essential for designing interventions and developing appropriate technologies. Further, as evidence suggests households are abandoning environmental health technologies, questions are raised regarding how and why households decide about mitigating environmental risks.

In recent decades, the national government in India has invested in policies to promote latrine building and access throughout the country and discourage the practice of open defecation. This project investigates the household decision-making process related to improved sanitation technologies and behaviours, from initial latrine adoption to maintenance or abandonment. Specifically focused on are household beliefs and perceptions and on social networks—including how beliefs operate within networks—through which environmental health interventions may first encourage adoption (and later abandonment) of latrines.

To examine the social mechanisms of latrine adoption and abandonment in rural India, new household survey data will be collected. Also, the study will conduct experimental games related to public goods and sanitation from approximated 2000 households in Orissa and Bihar. The Orissa sample builds on an existing 4-wave panel, allowing for examination of household sanitation practices over time. the Bihar sample facilitates comparative analysis amongst households impacted by more recent national policy.

The household surveys richly characterise social networks, sanitation behaviours, and household health histories, providing insight into revealed behaviours and beliefs among our sample. The experimental games are designed to measure coordination and effort in public goods provision within social networks, thereby capturing stated preferences for sanitation in sample villages. The game incentives are designed to mirror those in the public health environment as they relate to sanitation. Households individually choose how much effort to exert in the game and the group is rewarded based on aggregate effort, which is similar to how sanitation practices affect a community’s disease environment.

These two complementary datasets will inform how beliefs, knowledge, and social influences impact household sanitation behaviours. Clarifying how policies can be designed to fit into this existing social structure.


  • Blog post

    Collective action for environmental health: Evidence from sanitation in rural India

    Access to and sustained use of improved household latrines have long been both a challenge as well as a policy priority in India, particularly in rural areas. Recognising the importance of social mechanisms that underlie household sanitation choices, this study utilises experimental games conducted in rural Bihar and Odisha, to examine how social factors, such as gender,...

    14 Jan 2021 | Emily Pakhtigian, Subhrendu Pattanayak