Managing water together

Water management by farmers often demands collaboration amongst themselves instead of individualistic behaviour. By using insights into the behaviour of farmers, the government can stimulate a sense of community.

Farmers on a polder in Bangladesh are all in need of a pump to keep the land dry in order to grow more crops. As a group, it is in their collective interest that everyone helps pay for that pump. As an individual, it is cheaper to not pay, but still reap the benefits of the pump. However, if that is everyone’s logic, there will never be a pump.

'It is a classic example of the common good', says Stijn Reinhard, behavioural economist at Wageningen Economic Research. He conducts research into the behaviour of farmers in Bangladesh, in the context of the Water Management Knowledge and Innovation Program (WMKIP), a collaboration between the governments of the Netherlands and Bangladesh. In the future, he would like to conduct similar research in the Netherlands.

A sense of community

How do you stimulate group behaviour?

You can force cooperation, but that results in a lot of resistance. It is much smarter to influence behaviour.
Stijn Reinhard, researcher

This can be done by shifting the farmer’s identification from that of an individual to that of a group. For instance, this can be done by a local politician speaking at a meeting on the importance of the shared pump. Another way is two create two groups that compete to see who can get the money together for the pump first. Reinhard researches this in “real-life experiments”, by testing out various possibilities in actual situations. 

Behaviour is crucial

'Little behavioural research has been done in the world of water management', says Reinhard. 'Yet it is very important. In addition to technology and economic calculations, it is crucial that people use behavioural economic insights as well.'

Reinhard conducts this research in the Living Lab on behavioural change along with colleagues from the Urban Economic chair group and the Environmental Economics and Natural Resources chair group of Wageningen University.

Living lab is a new research approach where we not only use a lab-environment, but where we test behavioural insights in a multi-disciplinairy way and in a 'real-life'-situation with 'real people'. WUR, for instance, uses this method for behavioural research on nutrition and climate change.