Today while I was riding in a taxi, I saw a sign at the side of the road telling drivers to wear their seatbelts. I laughed to myself because at the moment, I was smushed in the front seat practically sitting on the PRNDL while the driver is trying to drive standard. A.k.a. no possible way to wear a seat belt. This is, of course, because I was in a car made to seat 5 people, and there were 7 people in it; 3 in the front (including the driver) and 4 in the back.
Looking out the windshield, I see a tro tro zoom by. A tro tro is basically a van that can seat about 15-23 people on the benches, or sometimes other things you can sit on like stool or jugs. I like to think of them as the Ghanaian public bus system: there are stations, where a bunch of tros park and wait for passengers, and there are various routes.
Anyways, these tro tros do not have seat belts at all. And it’s not just tro tros. A lot of taxis don’t have working seat belts, and even people’s personal vehicles tend not to have them either. There is no culture, or enforcement to buckle up. So what’s the point of this sign?
Don’t get me wrong, I think buckling up is important. It’s a safety precaution we learn in Canada before we even know we learn it. But I think I’ve worn a seat belt once (if that) in the past two months.
The sign in itself is a great tool; advertising safety in a clear and concise manner. But throwing this tool into an environment that isn’t able to use it seems like a waste. A joke. That’s why I laughed. Think of it as like being given nails while at the beach and being told to make a structure. Nails don’t do much when you’re using sand.
I think a lot of people working in development are addicted to tools. Tools come in the form of workshops, brochures, donkey carts, and even buildings. People like to train people, and give them stuff to try and make stuff better. And this is good! But if you’re just throwing in a hammer and telling people to build a house, you can’t expect great results if you’re in the middle of a swamp. In order for tools to be effective, the environment needs to be prepared to use it.
Here’s another example related to what I’m doing: Last year, the college did course evaluations for the first time. You know, those things we bubble in at the end of every semester, except these ones aren’t scantron. Course evaluations are awesome! It means that the staff are looking to get students’ opinions and improve their overall education! But if there is no means of analyzing the information, or no incentive for lecturers to take the information to heart, what good does it do? Luckily, the college is on the ball and there are plans to give bonuses to lecturers who have good comments.
How do you shape an environment? Great question. And I don’t have much of an answer. Shaping an environment has A LOT to do with behaviour change, and that is not something we humans do easily or quickly. I know of performance-based incentives, bonuses being an example of that. People are asked to change, and then there is a reward for improvement, meaning that the change becomes a focus and the atmosphere is encouraging of it. But other than that… I’m still pondering.