In 2018 the UNDP Innovation Facility issued a Call for Proposals to promote development through the innovative use of Artificial Intelligence, big data, behavioural insights and impact financing. A record of over 195 proposals were received, and 29 winners chosen from 35 countries. UNDP Georgia and its partners won with a clever, simple way to change attitudes about violence towards women.
Very often spectators don’t do anything when witnessing violence, even though taking action could potentially save lives. This is even more so when it comes to domestic and gender-based violence, still considered by many in Georgia to be a ‘private’ matter. What could prompt bystanders to act? What prevents witnesses from intervening? And what can witnesses do to help victims?
Violence affects thousands of people in Georgia every year. In 2017 4,370 restraining orders were issued and 2,143 domestic violence crimes were registered. Given that violence against women has in general very low reporting rates, we have to assume this is just the tip of the iceberg.
A group of specialists convened by UNDP in Georgia and South Africa set out to address this issue with assistance of the US branch of the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT). Our goal was to test new ways of facing the problem, against the backdrop of alarming statistics: 35 percent of all women are estimated to have been physically or sexually abused by an intimate partner. In 2016 the Georgian Emergency and Operative Response Centre received 18,163 calls about domestic conflict, compared to 5,447 calls in 2013.
“We’re trying to understand how to apply behavioural science to combat gender based violence in Georgia. Behavioural science is becoming one of the most cost-efficent ways of doing business and we’re trying to understand how best we can utilize that,” said UNDP Gender Programme Manager Maka Meshveliani.
The initiative was funded by the Government of Denmark through the UNDP Innovation Facility. The aim of the pilot was to identify ways of preventing intimate partner violence, and also develop tools that could be used by United Nations agencies.
Behavioural science in action
As the person leading innovation work at UNDP Georgia, it was a very challenging and fulfilling initiative to lead. The team comprised UNDP and BIT as well as UN Women, ServiceLab–the leading government innovation outlet—and Forset, the emerging leader in data communication.
The joint UN and BIT team used a BIT framework to understand what keeps bystanders from supporting survivors of intimate partner violence, what we could do that would encourage them to step in, and how we could rigorously test the effects of our experiment.
Initial research revealed that one of the reasons behind lack of support for abuse survivors was that they themselves didn’t speak up for fear of damaging their family reputation. It also became clear that they needed more information on where to get help. Bystanders, on the other hand, hold back from taking action because they feel helpless, or they consider abuse to be a private, family matter.
With that in mind we have tried to reframe the concept of help itself, highlighting that verbal support and empathy are as important as physical or material aid. We have designed a social media trial focusing on a positive social norm—that most Georgians do not believe abuse is a private matter—the latest nationwide research data reveals only 33 percent of Georgian women and 50 percent of Georgian men think so. The trial consisted of a series of social media advertisements that combined messages on overcoming the feeling of helplessness and negativity, with the idea of offering emotional support, along with ways to connect survivors to help.
These social media ads generated almost 150,000 views—twice the average rate. The most effective was the one combining emotional support and the perception that abuse is not a private matter.
What comes next?
We want to expand the trial to wider a audience through Public Service Hall, a Georgian government agency which provides a variety of public services to around 10,000 people every day, and help service providers shape public communication on existing ways of support.
Only a year ago we didn't know much about behavioural science, and though we are far from being experts, there is a team of locals equipped with the new knowledge to tackle other challenges. This year we have initiated similar experiments in two areas--public services for agriculture, and plastic consumption, the latter with the UNDP Moldova.
If you have worked on similar issues, reach out to us at UNDP Georgia – you can be of help!