Woman in the field with plants getting ready to cook

Conducting an On-the-Ground Behavioral Diagnostic to Increase Clean Cookstove Adoption

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Every day, in countries around the world, inefficient fuels and burning technologies are still used to cook meals. In many cases, these materials and tools are the traditional options. But they come with big costs, especially where human health is concerned. 

It’s estimated that inefficient cooking methods lead to 3.2 million premature deaths every year, affecting mostly women and children. The costs associated with indoor air pollution from cooking are estimated to be as high as $2.4 trillion annually, when accounting for healthcare costs, lost productivity among women and children, and environmental impacts.

Inefficient cookstoves are a big contributor to this problem. Although there are inexpensive, more fuel-efficient alternatives available, uptake in many countries has been low. In Uganda, less than 5% of households use improved cookstoves (ICSs)

To combat the high death rate, the World Bank started the Clean Cookstove Initiative. This project aims to increase adoption of ICSs, which can reduce household fuel spending by 50% and indoor pollution by up to 90%. Since 2015, the World Bank has provided about $562 million for clean or improved cooking, supporting 43 million people across 30 access-deficit countries.

Low uptake for clean cookstoves

Why is uptake of ICSs so low? The reasons are complicated. Past research by the World Bank found that there are systemic problems on both the supply and demand side: weak supply chains and poor poorly capitalized distributors limit consumers’ exposure to new technologies like ICSs, which in turn reduces demand. 

But at the individual level, there are also behavioral barriers that limit demand for ICSs. Cognitive biases and heuristics, social and cultural norms, and other factors often stand in the way of helpful behavioral changes. 

TDL partnered with the Bank to diagnose exactly what behavioral barriers were impeding ICS adoption in Uganda, and to develop evidence-based interventions to encourage greater uptake.

Fieldwork across stakeholders

This project wouldn’t have been possible without the help and collaboration of stakeholders on the ground. We worked with Ugandan government officials, ICS distributors and manufacturers, and our partners at the World Bank, carrying out original research and collecting data from hundreds of households.

We started out with a comprehensive review of the existing research on this topic, including literature on the World Bank’s Distribution Challenge Fund (DCF) and contextual knowledge of Improved Cookstoves in Uganda & Sub-Saharan Africa. From our research, we came up with a shortlist of behavioral barriers to investigate in more detail. 

To build out our hypotheses, we conducted a series of structured interviews with stakeholders across the DCF program. We worked to ensure that a wide range of viewpoints from along the value chain would be represented, including manufacturers, distributors, and regulators. This helped us gain insight into how certain behavioral dynamics were acting to limit supply of ICSs. 

For example, one insight that surfaced during our interviews was that a diffusion of responsibility on the supply side was limiting the reach of awareness campaigns. Manufacturers thought that distributors should be responsible for awareness campaigns, while distributors thought manufacturers should be. This lack of a clear mandate meant that many consumers were left unaware of the health risks of traditional stoves, and the benefits of ICSs. 

Listening to community voices

As part of our fieldwork, we also organized several focus groups with consumers in the Kampala region. We recruited diverse groups of participants, representing a range of backgrounds, gender, and socioeconomic statuses, in order to get a measured understanding of cookstove perception and household decision-making processes. 

Finally, to round out our understanding of barriers on both the supply and demand sides, we conducted a survey of shopkeepers, manufacturers, and 50 more households that had made the decision to switch to ICSs, as well as 100 households who had yet to make the change. Our focus was on understanding stove usage habits, uptake channels, and the biases that crop up at different points in the decision-making process.

Diagnosing the problem

With data in hand, we were ready to carry out a behavioral diagnostic of the problem at hand.  Our team used the COM-B Framework as a suitable lens to conceptualize the low adoption rates of improved cookstoves. This is a commonly used model in behavioral science that focuses on three main components: capability, opportunity, and motivation. These three things interact to influence the likelihood that an individual will adopt a certain behavior.

Our field research had left us with a list of seven core themes that affected ICS adoption. These included things like awareness, trust, access, and so on. We mapped these themes onto each COM-B component in order to identify key behaviors underlying the problem, as well as the cognitive biases entrenching these behaviors.

In the end, we identified a total of 26 specific barriers to clean cookstove adoption. These included everything from a lack of knowledge about the health risks of indoor smoke to the weight of the cookstoves themselves — the cheapest model was too heavy for most women to transport on their own.

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Cooking up change

Having identified the major problems at hand, the last step was to develop solutions to address them. In order to maximize our impact, we wanted to focus on interventions that could a) be scaled across our target population of Ugandans, and b) generate the greatest return on investment.

With this in mind, we developed two intervention vectors, with each of our 21 total recommendations grounded in our expertise with behavioral change techniques (BCTs). 

The first intervention vector was establishing access points. These access points would be dedicated to sales and information, including testing and comparing different cookstove models, offering credit mechanisms, and delivering sales support. Our stakeholder interviews made it clear that as things stand, there’s no incentive for private-sector players to take this kind of action, leaving a gap for NGOs like the World Bank to fill.

The second intervention vector was the creation of a centralized information line. This information line would be in the form of phone and SMS communication, and will be used to provide information about cookstove models, verify the legitimacy of salespeople, schedule deliveries, and reduce other informational barriers. 

Clean cooking for all

In the two years following our behavioral diagnostic, 72,535 improved cookstoves were successfully sold in Uganda. For households with these cookstoves, monthly fuel consumption was reduced by an average of 36%, with equivalent increases in financial savings and reductions in carbon emissions.

The benefits of the improved cookstoves were most impactful for mothers, pregnant women, and young children – the most likely to hold responsibility for cooking and collecting firewood.  After purchasing an improved cookstove, women reported 30–90 minutes of extra time per day, to be better spent on caring for children, other household tasks, or much-needed rest.

If you’re interested in learning more about our behavioral approach to clean cookstove adoption in Uganda, you can read our report here

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