Tourists in Mongolia Get a Nudge to Litter Less in Nature

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Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, Mongolia, Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, Mongolia, Javkhlan Ariunbaatar for UNDP Mongolia.

Spending a day at the park or camping by the river with family, friends, and colleagues is common during the summer, in Mongolia

One of the biggest attractions is Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. Its proximity to the capital Ulaanbaatar, where more than half of the country’s population resides, makes it a magnet for both locals and visitors. The park is nestled amid Terelj’s stunning landscape, where the Tuul river cuts through lush green mountains and forests, making it one of the Mongolia’s most scenic areas.

But the park’s popularity is also posing a big challenge.

The latest statistics from the local government database show that around 120,000 Mongolians and more than 20,000 international tourists visited the park in 2016.  And those numbers are rising by about 8.5 per cent every year.

The rise in visitors has seen a corresponding increase in littering across the park. Park rangers report that they clean up to up to four tonnes of waste daily, during peak tourist season. Irresponsible civic behavior, as well as a lack of infrastructure, contributes to this problem.

There are designated waste collection points in the park, but they are few and far between, which means it costs time and money to dispose waste. This results in wanton littering, and few pay heed to anti-littering signage or regulations. 

Another reason for such lax behavior is the lack of rangers. Their low numbers do not allow for vigilant monitoring of the park; and even if they catch people littering, the existing laws don’t permit them to issue fines.

 So, the question is: can we use a low-cost approach to nudge people to change behaviors.

Nudge Theory – made popular by the book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, is premised on the idea that positive reinforcements and indirect, often subliminal, suggestions, can drive behavior change among individuals more effectively than laws and regulations.    

To get the answers we needed, we worked with the Australia-based Behavioral Insights Team (BIT). We came up with a simple four-step process: TEST -- target-explore-solution-trial. TEST is used by BIT to develop, implement and evaluate behavioral interventions or ‘nudges’, and we designed our own behavioral experiments following on from weeks researching the nature of GT National Park’s littering problem.

Step One: Identify Target Group

We identified the main polluters or the target group, people who litter the most. We did this through a series of interviews with the park rangers, government officials, tourist camp owners, and tourists. Anecdotal information indicated that local tourists usually left their waste wherever they camped or picnicked. Hence, we targeted them, specifically those camping or picnicking near the river, the most preferred spots in the park.

Step Two: Explore – findings answer to “when to intervene”?

With an aim of identifying intervention points, we developed a user-journey-map which showed each and every step from “Decide to go camping” to “Disposal of waste.”  As a result, we identified the following three points that are key moments in the journey:

1. Stopping by a supermarket on the way to the park, to buy snacks and drinks for the trip.

2. Stopping to buy tickets at the park’s entry gate.

3. And limited ranger interaction with tourists, as they are significantly outnumbered.

Step Three: Finding a solution – how to intervene?

We used the EAST principles to develop and prioritize the behavioral interventions or “nudges.” EAST is a guiding principle also developed by BIT, which stands for easy-attractive-social and timely.

  • - Nudges should be easy to implement;
  • - Nudges should be attractive to the target group and others; 
  • - Nudges should be social, so that people will perform the desired behavior;
  • - Nudges should be timely, so that people are prompted to act considering immediate costs and benefits.

So far, the project has progressed through the target and explore steps. We are now at the Solutions step that will detail the series of ‘nudges’ we need to roll out. There is a reason were in a holding pattern at the moment – the final step will be implemented this coming summer, when the park starts receiving a new influx of tourists. Will we be able to retain Gorkhi-Terelj National Park’s unspoiled beauty…wait for it.  And if you don’t hear from us soon, give us a nudge. 

(The TEST project is being implemented through the UNDP Global Innovation Facility funded by the Government of Denmark)

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