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Report

Applying Behavioral Science to Humanitarian Cash camp; Voucher Assistance for Better Outcomes for Women

23 April 2020 — By Ideas42, CARE International

Cash and voucher assistance (CVA) is widely recognized as an effective and powerful tool in humanitarian settings. Recent innovation in humanitarian CVA has sought to increase efficiency by harmonizing procedures and improving delivery through new technology; these
innovations have cut costs while maintaining and enhancing the collective agency of recipients.
But beyond this technology, there are more tools within our reach that can increase the impact of CVA. In particular, the field of behavioral science—the science of how people make decisions and take actions in the real world—offers a fresh and needed source of innovation to increase the
impact of CVA for recipients.

Behavioral science can offer much-needed innovation because the traditional approach to program design (across a multitude of social sectors) often makes a number of assumptions about human behavior—such as that in a given situation, we weigh all available information, assess the costs and benefits of each option, make a choice that’s in our own best interests, and then act on it. Research in behavioral science shows us that this often isn’t the case—sometimes we make decisions that are not in our best interest; we act in ways that are counter to our intentions; or we don’t act at all even when we have the intention to do so. If we’re going to design more effective programs, we need to more accurately understand people and how they make decisions and take
actions beyond the traditional approach—we need behavioral science.

In line with this effort, ideas42 and CARE International conducted research in three of CARE’s countries of presence—Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey—to develop a thorough understanding of the contexts in which women recipients in these settings receive, make decisions on, and use CVA to support themselves and their households. In the pages that follow, we aim to share behavioral insights that shed new light on the many challenges facing women when using CVA in humanitarian settings in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. In summary, some of the key design principles that can increase the impact of CVA for women include minimizing the mental burdens placed on women throughout the transfer process, priming women to affirm positive identities at
key times, making the full range of what CVA can be used for visible, and framing CVA in ways that encourages planning and careful consideration of spending priorities.

Though the guidance is best used during project assessment and design, it can be adapted to different phases in the project cycle. Users are encouraged to ensure that a wider range of specialists participate in discussions seeking to incorporate the guidance—including CVA Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning (MEAL) teams, and sector specialists or technical leads.
It can also be used as a point of reflection for evaluation or after-action reviews. In addition, the involvement of program support staff and senior management will be valuable to ensure that the points are actionable and properly resourced. Overall, we hope that this guidance at the least starts
a wider conversation on applied behavioral science in the humanitarian space and encourages humanitarian organizations to work to implement behaviorally-informed programs with CVA.