Development promises to make people’s lives better. Yet in the rush to do good, we do not always listen to those whose lives are affected by our programmes. Whether it’s rude staff, long lines, intrusive questions or other offences against people’s dignity, government services and charitable distributions often come with demeaning hurdles.
As theoretical concepts, dignity and respect are widely discussed: in Western philosophy, and through qualitative work with populations across the world. Development actors talk about it often: Antonio Guterres has made it a centerpiece of his rhetoric, and it is a core principle for many humanitarian NGOs. It’s extensively discussed as a core principle of law and rights, and of medical care. People have tried to measure respectfulness in the lab, in maternal care and in interactions with government. Research by Jeremy Shapiro and Busara has shown that cash transfers are more respectful than other forms of aid, and we know that individual donors promise to give 60% more to charities that take care to be respectful.
What we don’t know much about are the consequences of respectfulness: what happens when you treat people more respectfully? Do small acts of respectfulness generate other positive changes, such as greater participation, altruism, self-efficacy or wellbeing? Dignity is surely entangled with other concepts, such as empowerment, but we don’t know how, just yet, or what respectfulness means to people. This quick “Off The Record” study is a first step on that road.
Our study design
We invited 2000 respondents from Kibera to the Busara Lab by text message, a day before the sessions. Participants were randomized into one of three groups:
- Control: they received the default invite message,
- Treatment 1: they received a message recognising them by name,
- Treatment 2: they received a message that included both their name and a choice of attendance time.