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Sharing What Works and What Doesn’t Work in FP/RH

We all know that sharing information across projects and organizations is good for FP/RH programs. Despite our best intentions, however, information sharing doesn’t always happen. We might lack time to share or we aren’t sure if the information shared will be useful. Sharing information about programmatic failures has even more barriers because of the associated stigma. So what can we do to motivate the FP/RH workforce to share more information about what works and what doesn’t work in FP/RH? 

Watch the full recording in English or French.

On June 16, 2022, Knowledge SUCCESS hosted a webinar to answer the question: What can we do to motivate the FP/RH workforce to share more information about what works and what doesn’t work in FP/RH? Participants shared results from our recently conducted behavior economics experiments with FP/RH professionals in Africa and Asia. During the webinar, Knowledge SUCCESS staff members provided an overview of the behavioral experiments, which explored two key knowledge management (KM) behaviors: information sharing in general and sharing of failures in particular. They then shared key findings on behavioral nudges that were either effective or ineffective in encouraging these two KM behaviors, including gender similarities and differences in the findings. An esteemed panel of experts in behavioral science, gender, and implementation of fail fests were also on hand to discuss the findings and provide their insights on how the FP/RH community can apply these findings to KM work. 


Ruwaida Salem
Senior Program Officer II & Team Lead
Johns Hopkins CCP

Maryam Yusuf
Busara Center for Behavioral Economics

Featured Panelists

Afeefa Abdur-Rahman
Senior Gender Advisor & Team Lead

Neela Saldahna
Executive Director

Anne Ballard Sara
Senior Program Officer
Johns Hopkins CCP

Part 1: Overview of the Behavioral Experiments

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Knowledge SUCCESS conducted a series of three behavioral lab experiments between June 2021 and February 2022 to understand the drivers of information-sharing behavior and any gender differentials:

  1. Testing behavioral nudges to motivate general information sharing through an adaptation of an experimental approach widely used in the behavioral sciences field called the “public goods game.”  
  2. Testing alternative words and phrases for failure that have a positive connotation through a word-association game. 
  3. Testing behavioral nudges and different terms for failure to encourage sharing of failures through an email-based experiment. This experiment also tested gender differences in intent to share failures when having to take questions from an audience. This was based on prior studies that have shown that women experience more hostility than men when presenting at conferences. 

Find more information about each experiment in a summary table.

The sample for the three experiments totaled 1,493 respondents spanning Africa and Asia. Ms. Yusuf explained that 70% of the sample was from East Africa and slightly more men than women were recruited (55% vs. 44%, respectively). Most (70%) of the participants were health professionals while the remainder were professionals working in other areas outside of health. Participants were randomly assigned to each of the three experiments and then, within the experiments, to treatment groups. The participants were also further randomized by their region and whether their preferred language was English or French. The sample completing each experiment ranged from 281 to 548.

Part 2: Results of the Information Sharing Experiment

Ms. Yusuf described the first experiment, which tested two behavioral primers—social norms and an incentive in the form of personal recognition—to determine which has the largest effect on information sharing. The experiment also tested if individuals are more or less likely to share information if they are aware that their partner is of the same or different gender identity. (Click the arrow in each drop-down for details.)

- Social norms framing encourages people to share information

“Social norms” refers to when people are influenced by their peers and the behaviors of those around them. In the first experiment, participants primed with social norms framing were told that “most other participants taking these assessments chose to share information with their partner.” Information sharing among participants who received the social norms nudge was nine percentage points higher than among participants who did not receive a behavioral nudge.

Watch now: 22:05

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- Personal recognition was not effective at encouraging information sharing

Personal recognition for an act or behavior can serve as a non-monetary incentive to perform the desired behavior. In the recognition treatment of the experiment, participants were told, “We will let your partner know that you chose to share your information with them using your first name only.” Ms. Yusuf explained that we did not find significant results for this particular type of recognition nudge but that other forms of recognition may be more effective in nudging sharing behavior.

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- Women are more likely to share information with other women

Ms. Yusuf explained that all participants were paired with a hypothetical partner and were asked if they wanted to share information with their partner. For the gender identity treatment, participants who received either the social norms or recognition nudge were informed that their partner was of the same or different gender identity by sharing the name of their partner using a traditionally masculine or feminine name. We found that sharing behavior was higher when participants were primed that their partner was of the same gender identity, and this was even more pronounced for women than men. Information sharing was 18 percentage points higher for women when primed that their partner was of the same gender identity than for men who received same-gender identity priming. 

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Panel discussion

Mrs. Saldanha confirmed that social norms framing and social proofing has been shown to work in other settings and for other purposes besides information sharing. For example, when hotels inform their guests that other guests reuse their towels, they are more likely to reuse their towels as well. As for incentives, the findings from other studies are mixed. Sometimes incentives are shown to be effective while other times they are not. Mrs. Saldanha suggested that the recognition given in the Knowledge SUCCESS experiment may have been too subtle and that a stronger type of recognition may be needed to encourage information sharing. 

Ms. Abdur-Rahman spoke to the experimental findings related to gender homophily, which is the tendency of individuals to interact with the same gender identity as their own. Ms. Abdur-Rahman highlighted that gender homophily can act as a barrier to knowledge sharing, including among the FP/RH workforce, and could lead to a loss of social capital that can help people work more effectively. For example, women may be excluded from certain networks, especially in leadership circles that are dominated by men. It can also affect men’s access to women’s diverse experiences and knowledge. Ms. Abdur-Rahman pointed out that research has shown that gender-diverse teams perform better than single-gender teams. 

Watch now: 26:20

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Part 3: Results of the failures sharing experiments 

The term “failure” often has a negative connotation and stigma attached to it, which prevents individuals from openly speaking about it. However, there is a lot to learn from one’s failures. The more we share our failures in the FP/RH field, the more likely we are to have successful programs by avoiding repetition of the same mistakes. Two additional experiments focused on this aspect. (Click the arrow in each drop-down for details.)

- Top-ranking alternative words to “failure”

In the word association game, respondents had only a few seconds to indicate a positive or negative reaction to words appearing on their screen. These words were alternatives for the word “failure.” Ms. Yusuf shared a list of terms that were categorized as positive by 80% or more of the participants, which included phrases such as “improving through failure,” “what works what doesn’t,” “reflections for growth,” and “lessons learned.” Terms that were ranked positive by less than 50% of participants included “failing forward,” “intelligent failures,” “bloopers,” “flops,” and “pitfalls.” 

Watch now: 35:38

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- Choose your words carefully: How you refer to “failures” can affect people’s willingness to share their failures

In the final email-based experiment, we tested three aspects related to people’s intention to share professional failures: 

  1. Behavioral nudges to encourage sharing of failures. The behavioral nudges used social norms framing (“more people like you are sharing their failures”), self-efficacy framing (“you will receive a simple template and coaching to help you share your failures”), and incentives framing (“you will be entered into a raffle to have conference registration fees covered if you choose to share your failures”).
  2. Three alternative terms for failure that were ranked positively in the word association game and were deemed by the project team to most directly communicate the notion of failures (“improving through failure,” “what works and what doesn’t,” and “lessons learned from failure”). 
  3. Gender identity differentials to intention to share failures when participants are informed there would be a live Q&A session following the sharing of failures.

Ms. Yusuf shared that using the phrase “improving through failure” rather than “failure” when inviting participants to share their failures at an upcoming virtual event increased intention to share failures by 20 percentage points. The experiment did not find significant effects on intention to share failures for any of the behavioral nudges tested.

Watch now: 47:19

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- Interactive discussions may create a hesitancy to share failures

When participants were told there would be a Q&A session following the sharing of their failure, the percentage of participants who indicated their intention to share a failure was 26 percentage points less compared with those who were not told there was a live Q&A. Ms. Yusuf explained that we did not observe significant differences between men and women, suggesting that irrespective of gender identity, live interactive Q&A sessions may discourage health professionals from sharing their professional failures openly.

Watch now: 49:38

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Panel discussion

Ms. Ballard Sara was part of the team at Knowledge SUCCESS that hosted a series of failure-sharing events. She shared three important takeaways from her experience with implementing those events. First, more people are warming up to the idea of sharing their failures and recognizing the value in sharing what’s not working in addition to sharing what is working. While some individuals dropped off during the sharing failures component of the event, the ones that stayed provided positive feedback. They were comforted by others’ experiences and found it helpful to learn lessons that were relevant for their own work. Second, the events addressed the component of self-efficacy by sharing a template and tips on how to share their failures. Notably, the events made use of “curious questions” that were formulated by Ashley Good from Fail Forward, in contrast to using a problem-solving approach. An example of a curious question is “Why is this story meaningful to share?” Such types of questions not only help people who are listening but also people who are sharing to reflect on and derive learnings from the failures, instead of pointing fingers or laying blame. Third, Ms. Ballard Sara found the experiment findings around the choice of words to refer to failures was helpful because they reinforced the notion that we should stress the learning aspect from sharing of failures. 

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Part 4: Recommendations

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Ms. Salem concluded the webinar with some key recommendations to take away from the behavioral experiments. 

Motivating increased information sharing

  1. Incorporate social norms framing into key messages to encourage uptake and use of knowledge management solutions that require information sharing. For example, on a platform like FP insight, where users can collect, organize, and share important FP/RH resources in curated collections, letting potential users know that many of their peers are on the platform or sharing user testimonials could encourage them to sign up and start sharing information. 
  2. Ensure a balanced mix of gender identities in information-sharing spaces and establish norms that encourage sharing among gender identities to ensure diversity in perspectives.
  3. Conduct additional research, using qualitative studies, to identify the types of incentives to encourage information sharing that resonate well with FP/RH professionals. 

Encouraging sharing of failures

  1. Combine a positive term such as “improving” or “learning” with the term “failure” can help destigmatize the term “failure” without losing its meaning. This makes use of a behavioral economics concept called gain framing, which has the potential to evoke more positive responses from FP/RH professionals. 
  2. Provide various types of platforms and formats for health professionals to share their failures. Ensure appeal to the different levels of comfort and needs of potential participants.
  3. Conduct additional studies to explore other behavioral nudges that might encourage sharing of failures. 

Interested in more details about the experiments and the findings? Access the full report here

Aanchal Sharrma

Senior Analyst, Busara Center for Behavioral Economics

Aanchal Sharrma is a senior analyst at the Busara Center, where she supports the projects and advisory division with the application of behavioral science to development challenges and policies. Her background is in economic research, behavioral science, health, gender, and sustainability. Aanchal’s experience lies in economic and policy research, consulting, and social impact, and she holds a Post-Graduate Diploma in Advanced Economics from Ashoka University.

Ruwaida Salem

Senior Program Officer, Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs

Ruwaida Salem, Senior Program Officer at the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, has nearly 20 years of experience in the global health field. As team lead for knowledge solutions and lead author of Building Better Programs: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Knowledge Management in Global Health, she designs, implements, and manages knowledge management programs to improve access to and use of critical health information among health professionals around the world. She holds a Master of Public Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from the University of Akron, and a Graduate Certificate in User Experience Design from Kent State University.