Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.
Incentivizing compliance for things like speeding or picking up dog poo can be a win for cities and residents, at least in the short run
At a very basic and general level there are two dominant schools of thought when it comes to rules: reward those in compliance or punish those out of compliance. Punishment tends to be the most common of the two. It’s a lot easier to notice somebody doing the wrong or illegal thing than running around trying to pat everyone on the back for not breaking the rules. But when the scales tip and breaking the rules becomes the norm, it may be time to switch up the strategy.
This is the path taken recently by New Taipei City in Taiwan. The city had been struggling with sanitation and cleanliness as dog owners weren’t doing a great job of cleaning up after their animals. In response the city set up a lottery to reward residents for picking up the poo. As the BBC reports, more than 4,000 people collected about 14,500 bags of dog poop and turned them in. For each bag received (presumably by some extremely unlucky city official), residents were given one ticket for the lottery. Various prizes were awarded over the course of the lottery program, including the grand prize earlier this week: a solid gold ingot valued at about $2,200. In total, 85 prizes were handed out.
Officials say the program has helped reduce the amount of dog feces on city streets and sidewalks by about half since the program launched in August.
In another lottery-based program, the Swedish city of Stockholm last year installed a trial project on one of its busy streets that aimed to reward drivers for following the speed limit. It was one of those “this is your speed” signs, flashing kilometer-per-hour readings at passing cars. Hooked into the sign was a camera, which took pictures of each car passing. Those exceeding the speed limit were issued speeding fines, and those obeying the rules were rewarded with an entry into a lottery, the prize money being generated by the fines collected from the speeders.
The idea actually came out of yet another contest, this time put on by the auto manufacturer Volkswagen. Called the Fun Theory Award, the contest called for innovative ideas to show how fun can be effective at changing people’s behavior.
Over a three-day trial period, nearly 25,000 cars were photographed, and the average speed of drivers passing the spot of the sign dropped from 32 km/h down to 25km/h. It’s unclear if the lottery was ever held.
This idea of rewarding good behavior is undeniably appealing. It rewards residents for doing the right thing, and also makes things safer (or less crappy) for cities. But at the same time, one has to wonder whether these temporary programs would have the same impact over the long term – whether, for example, people would eventually stop picking up after their dogs after years of playing and never winning the poop lottery.
Of course, poop-free sidewalks and safe streets should themselves be considered rewards. But how likely is that sentiment to take hold and change behavior at a wide scale? Please note: there is no prize for the correct answer.
Image credit: Rolighetsteorin