Mixing Water and Behaviour Change: Final Report and Policy Brief

17 November 2019

Martine Visser, Johanna Bruhl, Megan McLaren

South Africa has been in the grip of one of the worst droughts in decades with eight provinces having been declared disaster areas (all provinces except for Gauteng). The news that Cape Town could be the first major city in the world to run out of drinking water made headlines across the world in the beginning of 2018. In 2016, the University of Cape Town (‘UCT’) in collaboration with the Water Research Commission (‘WRC’) and the City of Cape Town (‘CoCT’) concluded a large-scale study on the impact of nudging to motivate water conservation amongst residential households in Cape Town. The study saw 400,000 households in Cape Town targeted with a series of nudges via an insert included within their monthly utilities bill. Households received one of eight forms of nudges, either addressing informational failures around price and usage of water or promoting water conservation via social incentives and appeals to the public good. All treatments successfully induced a reduction in household consumption, ranging from 0.57% for the tips treatment to 1.86% for the social recognition treatment.

The successful implementation and positive results motivated the CoCT to extend the aims of the original project into a second phase, with a focus on capacity building within the municipality. While the first part of the research project focused on the design, implementation, and analysis of the behavioural nudges, the second phase intended to transfer knowledge and skills between the UCT researchers and the city officials in order to institutionalise the learnings from the study. From a policy perspective, it was also important to assess how behavioural interventions impacted water demand in the longer term, and how behavioural interventions compare to more traditional policy tools, such as tariff increases and water usage restrictions. This research report serves as a summary of the events that took place within the second phase of the project.


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Publication | 17 March 2021