Evaluation of a Behavioral Approach to Improve Outcomes in Early Childhood

April 18, 2017

Improving early childhood development parenting practices and nutrition is a critical first step in preparing children for school and productive working lives. With nearly 80 percent of Madagascar’s population of 22 million living below $1.25 per day, around half of Malagasy children are chronically malnourished. As part of the roll out of a World Bank supported social safety net project that gives cash transfers to the poorest households, SIEF researchers will test the impact of adding in community meetings on healthy development with behavioral “nudges” to boost mothers’ self-esteem and help them take positive steps for their children’s future. The results will help inform future roll out of the safety net program, and provide researchers with valuable information on the applicability of behavioral science to improve early childhood development.

Research area: Early Childhood Nutrition, Development, and Health

Country: Madagascar

Evaluation Sample: Six districts

Timeline: 2016-2019


Researchers: Damien De Walque, World Bank; Lia Fernald, University of California (Berkeley); Patricia Kariger, Research Consultant; Josh Martin, ideas42; Dana Guichon, ideas42; Jiyoung Han, ideas42; Tina Razafinimanana, ideas42

Partners: Pierre Lazamanana, Director, Ministry of Population, Social Protection, and Gender; Rasendra Rastima, Director General, Madagascar’s FID - Fonds d'Intervention pour le Développement; Haga Allivenja, Evaluation Director, FID - Fonds d'Intervention pour le Développement; Achille Razakatoanina, Director CCT, FID - Fonds d'Intervention pour le Développement; Mirana Noroniaiana Ranarivelo, Private Sector Partnership Specialist, UNICEF; Noroiaina Rakoto, Independent Consultant (Early Childhood Development Specialist); 



A three-year World Bank supported social safety net project is using cash transfers to try and help the poorest families meet their basic needs. The safety net pilot, which started with 5,000 households, increased to around 39,000 poor households in the second half of 2016. The safety net includes  unconditional transfers for families with children up to the age of six. Community-elected “mother leaders,” who are also beneficiaries, will be trained to run meetings on health and childhood development practices. In addition, with funding from ideas42, a behavioral change program will be set up to use ‘nudges” to help mothers getting cash transfers focus on how they can help their children’s development. The evidence from the impact evaluation will not only help inform the further roll-out of the safety net program, but will provide development experts elsewhere with information on the practicality and cost effectiveness of using behavior change programs.


The evaluation will be run as a three-level cluster randomized control trial on households clustered at various geographic levels (fokontany and commune). There will be 38 "Treatment" Communes that receive the social safety net cash transfer program and 13 “Control” Communes that will receive no program programs. From among the 38 Treatment Communes receiving the cash transfer, all fokontany (the lower administrative division akin to villages) will be randomly assigned to (a) Cash Only/No Mother Leader, (b) Cash + Mother Leader, (c) Cash + Mother Leader + Self-Affirmation Nudge, and (d) Cash + Mother Leader + Plan-making Nudge.

The specific research questions to be answered are:

  1. Can the cash transfer program increase attendance rates for children enrolled in school?
  2. Can the cash transfer program improve outcomes in children’s physical well-being, school readiness, and socio-cognitive development?
  3. Can the Mother Leader program (leadership/empowerment intervention) improve outcomes in children’s physical well-being, school readiness, and socio-cognitive development beyond the impacts of the cash transfer?
  4. Can behavioral science interventions (i.e. “nudges”), in addition to the cash transfer and the Mother Leader program, improve outcomes in children’s physical well-being, school readiness, and socio-cognitive development?