Comparing "Demonstration plots" to the UK's Nudge Unit work with taxes and neighbors?

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While I am at it I thought I would ask about the efficacy of "Demonstration plots". I have never thought of them as particularly successful, or at least the ones I have seen. Part of this may be the lack of considering that these plots are subsidized initiatives that assume people will copy them/their neighbors, without a subsidy.
What got me wondering about this was work that the UK's "Nudge Unit" (Behavioural Insights Team) has done with taxes, from the NY Times (
"One of the biggest successes of the nudge unit involves tax payment. Inspired in part by a field experiment in Minnesota, Mr. Halpern’s team has helped test different reminder letters on hundreds of thousands of people who haven’t paid their tax bills. One nudge was a sentence telling recipients that a majority of people in their community had already paid their taxes. Another said that most people who owe a similar amount of tax had paid.
Both messages bolstered tax collection, and combining them had an even stronger effect. Over the last financial year, the letters brought forward £210 million of revenue, Britain’s revenue and customs department says — money that otherwise would have had to be chased in costly court procedures and failed to earn interest for the government."
To me, the reasoning that the nudge unit uses sounds very similar to part of the reasoning behind demonstration plots, that is, people see their neighbors succeeding so they will do it too. Keeping up with the Jones as I think the Americans say.
Problem is, according to the nudge unit this works, but according to my admittedly anecdotal observations demonstrations in development don't seem to be particularly effective? Thoughts?

03 Mar 2018, 5:17 p.m.

Dickson Nyangu

Interesting.Our project in Zambia,has been designating demo plots as a way of delivering latest product tech info to smallholder rural , farmers.Initially the plots were always neglected and overgrown with weeds because of lack of farmer ownership ,as demo inputs were always viewed as an assured yearly project intervention with subsidized inputs. In 2018 we changed the concept and messaging informing the lead farmers responsible on the plots that, The project was going to treat the plots as commercial demos with a one time subsidized input injection.The idea was that each harvest was to be commercially sold and returns to be used as start up packs for subsequent demos.The team managed to set up 8 of such demos across the project area. Would be glad to share if the new messaging will succeed in changing behavior towards ownership by harvest time.

27 Feb 2018, 10:37 a.m.

Robbie Barkell

Another way to think about it might be: The Nudge Unit's tax letter interventions were about encouraging the minority of taxpayers who do not comply to adopt the social norm of compliance (i.e. "everyone else is doing it, why don't you"). This is tied to the literature on intrinsic motivations for compliance and notions of a social contract with government. My understanding of demonstration plots is that they are about showing success in a few instances to encourage a wider population to copy (i.e. "that person is making more than me, why don't I"). The question therefore isn't about getting a minority to comply to an existing social norm, but trying to create or shift existing social norms. Will of course vary with context, but not surprising to me that the latter proves more difficult.

26 Feb 2018, 2:08 p.m.

Rob Mera

Thanks for the observation and link, I will def take a look at it. And yes, I too would be interested to know what other have found to be critical successes and failures of demo plots.

24 Feb 2018, 7:54 a.m.

Kevin Seely

Have I understood correctly Rob that you’re asking if demo plots spur adoption by farmers, and if so under what conditions? Your comparison with the Nudge Unit’s tax success might point to an interesting lesson. In general, farmers are likelier to adopt the innovation being demonstrated when they think it is the norm in their community or will become the norm. Demo plots that don’t look easily replicable are unlikely to become the norm, so they often fail to encourage adoption. In contrast, when demo plots do look replicable, and are combined with incentives towards adoption, they can be effective. The case study here for example: I’m sure there’s more to it than that! I’d be interested to know what others have found to be critical success and failure factors for demo plots.