Q&A with UTP Authors Jiaying Zhao, Saugato Datta, and Dilip Soman

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Cash Transfers for Inclusive Societies offers practical advice on how best to successfully design, deliver, and evaluate efficient cash transfer programs. Read the full Q&A by authors Jiaying Zhao, Saugato Datta, and Dilip Soman below:

1.Tell us about when the idea for writing this book first came to fruition. Is there a story behind it? How did this topic get fleshed out?

A number of researchers who were part of the Behaviourally Informed Organizations partnership (https://www.biorgpartnership.com/) were interested in studying how behavioural science could help with poverty alleviation in general, and with cash transfer and other social assistance programs in particular. Our conversations led to a symposium in 2021 that the three of us co-chaired. We had academics and practitioners from all around the world, and the conversations there provided the seeds for chapters in this book.

2. What was the most challenging aspect of this project?

The strength of the book is the diversity of the voices that have contributed to it. We had contributing authors from several countries, both in the Global North and the Global South, and both from academia and practice. This strength also created the greatest challenge. We wanted each chapter to have the same style, look, and feel, and – in essence – sound like one voice. This involved a fair bit of back-and-forth with each of the contributors.

3. Tell us about the research process for this book. Was there something in your research that surprised you?

There was a wide variety of research that went into this book. Some chapters were based on case studies, some on a field trial or pilot program, and some on insights gleaned from interviews and surveys. In terms of surprises, perhaps the biggest learning for all of us was just how much behavioural science could help in the design and delivery of social assistance programs. Both the number of potential applications of behavioural science and their effectiveness was surprisingly large.

4. What was your experience working with the editor/editors of this book?

The three of us had an interesting role in that we served as co-editors for all of our contributors, but then we each also co-authored a chapter and worked with a UTP editor in pulling the materials together. While it was a lot of work, it was an extremely pleasant and collaborative experience all around.

5. What do you hope readers will take away from reading Cash Transfers for Inclusive Societies?

Policymakers and designers of cash transfer programs have often thought about the success of these programs primarily as a function of how much cash was provided to recipients – the simple calculus was, the more the cash you provide to people in need, the better the outcomes. Our book shows that the specific design features of the program matter a lot, and that an understanding of behavioural science can better inform the optimal design of programs. We essentially propose a framework and case studies on how to do this.

For the behavioural science enthusiast, we hope this book will reinforce and add to the many ways in which an understanding of human behaviours can make the world a better place. One key idea from the book is that poverty is not simply a lack of cash, but it also brings with it a cognitive burden. Providing cash can loosen the cognitive burden and make for more inclusive societies. Behavioural science can inform us as to exactly how the cash needs to be provided to make things as easy and helpful for the recipient!

Learn more about Cash Transfers for Inclusive Societies, here.


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