Global Waters Radio: Robert Dreibelbis on Handwashing Behavior Change in Bangladesh

“What we are hoping to do with this study is assess the feasibility of using nudges to change handwashing behavior — so instead of changing how people make decisions, you change the context in which those decisions are actually made.”

Photo credit: University of Oklahoma

Robert Dreibelbis is a Lecturer at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and an Assistant Professor in the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Anthropology and Department of Civil Engineering and Environmental Sciences. In honor of Global Handwashing Day (October 15th), Dreibelbis shares with Global Waters Radio his experiences with a handwashing behavior change pilot project in Bangladesh that delivered promising results obtained using subconscious environmental cues called “nudging.” Without the use of additional handwashing education interventions, the nudge-based intervention implemented by Dreibelbis and his team increased handwashing among school children by 72 percent during the trial period.

There’s a very pragmatic approach to this, we want to know what mechanisms are feeding into these large improvements in handwashing. We are trying to understand if we are able to change certain behaviors, or start new habits or social norms around hand washing — and the various ways this intervention could influence handwashing behavior.”

Dreibelbis also discusses the project’s implications for future handwashing behavior change research, particularly in the healthcare industry. A nudge-based approach to handwashing hygiene improvement in clinics and hospitals incorporating simple changes to infrastructure, availability or placement of handwashing facilities could drive significant hygiene improvements among healthcare workers, he suggests. To listen to the full podcast, please click below.

To view or download this Global Waters Radio transcript, please click here.

For more information on the research discussed in this Global Waters Radio podcast:


Global Waters Radio is a podcast series produced by the Water Team at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The series offers listeners insights from USAID officials, development partners, thought leaders and experts from across the water sector as they discuss current USAID water programming and cutting-edge research from around the world. Have a topic you would like to see covered in a future Global Waters Radio podcast? Please contact us at waterteam@usaid.gov, and follow us on Twitter @USAIDWater.

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