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  • Saving water in schools: evidence on the use of smart water meters and behavioural insights (2017 - 2018)

    Date: 2017 - 2018 

    Research team: This project is being conducted by researchers from a number of organisations, including RUBEN, the Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU), and  Bridgiot. Researchers include: Martine Visser (RUBEN & EPRU), Johanna Brühl (EPRU), Kenneth Berger (Masters) and Thinus Booysen (Bridgiot/University of Stellenbosch).

    Through a combination of smart water meter technologies and behaviour based interventions this study aims to address whether (1) feedback about past consumption or (2) social comparison in the form of an interschool competition reduce water consumption in schools in the Western Cape, South Africa. The project provides schools with improved infrastructure and information to manage water consumption and promote water conservation. Further, it provides municipalities with additional tools for encouraging sustainability and illustrates the potential for welfare gains from reducing consumption through the uptake of smart technology.

  • Climate information and adaptation to climate change (2017 - 2018)

    Date: 2017 - 2018 

    Research team: This project is being conducted by researchers from a number of organisations, including RUBEN, the Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU), Environment and Climate Research Centre (Ethiopia), and the University of Dar es Salaam. Researchers include: Martine Visser (RUBEN & EPRU), Chalmers Mulwa (EPRU & RUBEN), Zachary Gitonga (EPRU); Mintewab Bezabih (Environment and Climate Research Centre) and Byela Tibesigwa (University of Dar es Salaam)

    Using surveys and economic experiments, this study aims to address whether: (1) attitudes towards uncertainty lead to sub-optimal decisions among farmers in northern Namibia and Tanzania (2) lack of information on climate change is a significant barrier to climate change adaptation among farmers in each of these locations (3) there is a demand for weather information that reduces climate change-induced uncertainty in farming and (4) providing weather information leads to better farming choices including adaptation to climate change. The project aims to advise on better targeting of policy that leads to higher agricultural outcomes through adoption of best practices and adaptation to climate change.

  • Female microenterprise creation and business models for private sector distribution of low-cost renewable off-grid led lighting: multiple randomized trials, impact evaluation, and lab experiments in rural villages (2015 - 2018)

    Date: 2015 - 2018

    Research team: Martine Visser, Rowan Clarke (Masters) and Rebecca Klege (PhD)

    Over 1.3 billion people worldwide lack access to modern energy. In Africa, this is expected to rise given that grid expansion is not predicted to keep pace with population growth. In addition, almost six million children under five die each year from preventable diseases, the primary cause being respiratory infections, and smoke from traditional lighting sources ha been found to be a key risk factor in pilot studies. Furthermore, the United States and United Kingdom alone, via Power Africa's Beyond the Grid, have committed to invest over $1 billion into off-grid and small-scale solutions in Sub-Saharan Africa, and this is just a small fraction of the amounts being spent on solar energy. Yet the impacts of such programs have seldom been rigorously studied. Additionally, adoption remains low, and the question of how to increase use is still to be answered.

    To address this issue, we partner with a large social enterprise that has distributed low-cost solar lighting to over 150 000 households and 750 000 people in rural Rwanda involving the creation of 1500 microenterprises in charge of distribution and recharge. We carry out a number of large-scale field and business experiments as well as lab-in-the-field experiments. These use new automated data collection technologies to combine big data with household surveys. They include:

    • Lab-in-the-field behavioural experiments measuring risk, competition and social preferences of entrepreneurs and studying their effect on entrepreneurial success. We also study how these preferences interact in microenterprises where gender composition is randomly assigned.
    • A series of business strategy experiments focusing on pricing and behavioural interventions to increase take-up and use of off-grid renewable energy targeting the ultra-poor.
    • Welfare impacts of low-cost solar lighting for the rural poor: a large-scale randomized evaluation in 272 Rwandan villages.
    • Randomized evaluation of a renewable energy microenterprise program
    • Impacts of a purpose-designed women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship program including random assignment of the gender composition of new microenterprises: 50-50, women-only, and men-only.


    • Barron, M., Clarke, R.P., & Visser, M. 2017. A Role for subsidies in provision of Renewable lighting for the poor? Working Paper
    • Clarke, R.P., Visser, M., & Barron, M. 2016. Female microenterprise creation, gender and welfare impacts, and business models for low-cost off-grid renewable energy: Multiple randomised experiments. Scoping report.
    • Clarke, R.P. & Barron, M. 2016. Promoting female entrepreneurship in the Rwandan energy sector. ENERGIA News, 17(1).
  • The role of behavioural insights to facilitate conservation of water & building behavioural insights capacity in local government (2014 - 2019)

    Date: 2014 - 2019

    Research team: This project is being conducted by researchers from a number of organisations, including RUBEN, the Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU), and iCOMMS. Researchers include: Martine Visser (RUBEN & EPRU), Kerri Brick (EPRU), Samantha De Martino (EPRU), Jorge Garcia, Johanna Brühl (EPRU), Ulrike Rivett (iCOMMS) Megan McLaren (iCOMMS, Masters)

    In the first stage of this project, a large scale randomised control trial (around 400,000 households) was conducted where behavioural nudges were sent to households with their monthly municipal bill over a period of 6 months to motivate water savings. A number of framings were used, for example a social norm message compared a household’s consumption to the average for their neighbourhood and a financial loss message quantified the loss from not reducing consumption.

    While the first stage of the project was focused around the design and roll-out of the study, the second part is focused around knowledge and skills transfer and the integration of the learnings within the structures and staff at the City of Cape Town. Working papers from the first stage of the project

    • Brick, K., De Martino, S., Visser, M., 2017. Behavioural Nudges for Water Conservation: Experimental Evidence from Cape Town, South Africa. WRC Working Paper. DOI10.13140/RG.2.2.25430.75848
    • Brick, K., De Martino, S., Visser, M., 2017. Image Motivation for prosocial behaviour: Evidence from South Africa. Draft Working Paper.
    • Brick, K. and Visser, M., 2017. Green Nudges in the DSM toolkit: Evidence from Drought-Stricken Cape Town. Draft Working Paper, School of Economics, University of Cape Town. DOI10.13140/RG.2.2.16413.00489
    • Brühl, J. and Visser, M., 2018. Heterogeneous responses to behavioural messages: evidence from a large-scale randomised control trial in Cape Town. Draft Working Paper, School of Economics, University of Cape Town

     Additional Outputs

    • A report detailing the processes in terms of logistics and technology required to roll-out the interventions used during this study.
    • Local workshop with staff from different departments within the City of Cape Town to communicate findings and to set in place a plan to facilitate the integration of the necessary processes needed to scale up the findings.
    • Strategy for integration and cooperation formulated jointly between the research team and the City of Cape Town to ensure knowledge and skill transfer.
    • Paper comparing the effectiveness of tariff hikes to the behavioural nudges as a means of encouraging water savings.
    • Paper assessing the long-run impacts of behavioural nudges as a demand side management tool and shed light on the habit formation processes relevant to such interventions.
    • Knowledge sharing workshop at a national level
  • Eskom billing study (2014 - 2015)

    Date: 2014 - 2015

    Research team: Martine Visser, Grant Smith and Johanna Brühl

    The study experimentally investigated the role of improved timing and salience of information imparted in providing customers with utility bills. We specifically studied the impact of redesigning the utility bills and testing how different treatments fare in improving general understanding of the bill. We further investigated the role of timely messaging in reminding people about their consumption to improve salience issues in dealing with electricity usage.


    • Brühl, Johanna, Smith, Grant and Visser Martine. 2016.  Households' Inattention to Energy Consumption: How to Redirect Attention towards Desired Actions. Working Paper (also submitted as technical report for ESKOM)
    • Brühl, Johanna, Smith, Grant and Visser Martine. 2016. Simple is good – Redesigning a Utility Bill to reduce Complexity and Increase Consumer Understanding (also submitted as technical report for ESKOM)


  • Brick, K. & Visser, M. Who should pay for climate? Public perceptions in a multi-country experiment. Environmental and Resource Economics, forthcoming.
  • Brick, K., Visser, M., & Van der Hoven, Z. 2016. Cooperation and Climate Change: Can Communication facilitate the Provision of Public Goods in Heterogeneous Settings? Environment and Resource Economics 64(3): 421-443. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10640-015-9879-z
  • Brick, K. & Visser, M. 2015. Risk preferences, Technology Adoption and Insurance Uptake, Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organization 118: 383-396. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jebo.2015.02.010
  • Brick, K. & Visser, M. 2015. What is Fair? An experimental Guide to Climate Negotiations. European Economic Review 74: 79-95. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.euroecorev.2014.11.010
  • Visser, M. & Burns, J. 2015. Inequality, social sanctions and cooperation within South African fishing communities, Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organisation, 118. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jebo.2015.03.009
  • Brick, K., Visser, M., & Burns, J. 2012. Risk Aversion: Experimental Evidence from South African Fishing Communities, American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 94(1): 133-152.https://doi.org/10.1093/ajae/aar120
  • Hasson, R., Lofgren A., & Visser, M. 2012. Treatment Effects of Ambiguity and Uncertainty on Mitigation and Adaptation behaviour in an Experimental Setting. South African Journal of Economics, 75.1: 66-83.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2010.09.004