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Can digital tools be used to help young mothers in Kenya form new habits?

A phone is no longer just a phone. It’s your connection to the rest of the world, it’s your personal assistant, and now, it’s your best friend who gives you encouragement and reinforcement for your good habits.

At least that’s what mobile phones have become for those who make use of habit-boosting apps.

If you’re trying to quit smoking and want to build a streak of puff-free days, the HabitBull app can help you do that. Want to establish a habit in your team that makes use of social accountability? Try Habitica. Do you want positive reinforcement for your activities in a motivational, rewarding voice? Productive is the app for that.

But what if you’re a young mum, living in the urban slums of Nairobi and you want to improve the health and wellbeing of your children?

Try U Afya’s 10-Day Challenge.

U Afya is an online community for young mothers and mothers-to-be to learn about topics related to health, hygiene and family life. The site takes a holistic approach to give young mothers the knowledge and confidence they need to enact certain healthy behaviours. It’s a place to discuss, give and receive advice, take free online courses, and now, to establish good habits with a custom-built habit tracking tool.

The 10-Day Handwashing Challenge was launched using new habit-tracking functionality. Users were encouraged to perform an activity related to handwashing each day, e.g. wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds. The challenges were formulated around the Lifebuoy “5 Key Moments” model. Participants were required to log their activity on the site by completing a survey.

Each day the site fed users a different hygiene-related tip, as well as links to additional content. At the end of the challenge, users were pushed to take a pledge and make a commitment to handwashing.

 

What makes U Afya’s Habit Tracker different from other habit boosting apps?

For starters, it’s not an app.

It has been built onto a low-data usage site that has been optimised for the data-sensitive target audience in the Nairobi slums. The tracker provides a rich, visual experience, which makes use of simple functionality compatible on both feature phone and smartphone.

So interesting and easy to follow

Sense of urgency.

Users were required to log their activity for 10 days within a 30-day period. Attaching a “deadline” added a measure of urgency to the activity. There is no space for procrastination, establish your habit now or you never will!

Thank you!! For the hand washing challenge I’m happy for completing it since, I have learnt some good hygiene practices and personal cleanliness.

It is based on behaviour change levers.

The 10-Day Handwashing Challenge and its accompanying content around the site were all based on the behaviour change approach employed by Lifebuoy in Way of Life, namely Awareness, Commitment, Reinforcement and Reward.

The approach was executed in the following ways:

  • Awareness: Introducing the handwashing theme with engaging, educational content that linked to and from the 10-Day Handwashing Challenge:
    • Diseases caused by lack of handwashing (article)
    • 5 Tips for washing your hands correctly (article)
    • Global Handwashing Day! – The 5 Key times to wash our hands (article)
    • How much do you know about handwashing? (quiz)
  • Commitment: Encouraging users to take the Handwashing Pledge
  • Reinforcement: Habit tracker, come back to self-report your daily activity
  • Reward: Participants stood the chance to win a hygiene gift bag

It was a great experience..I have got used to washing my (hands) every time I visit the toilet, before and after eating anything…my kids nowadays cannot eat anything before they wash their hands and after visiting the toilet….thanks to U Afya for this great challenge

Contents of the hygiene gift bag given to 5 winners.

The results

86 users started the challenge and 26 users completed it within the 30-day challenge period. That makes a completion rate of 30% overall. Considering that users had to return to the challenge 10 times, the response rate is quite high.

The biggest drop-off happened between Day 1 and Day 2, with 28 users falling away and drop-off rates decreased gradually throughout the 10 days. The graph below shows that most users who made it to day 5 ended up completing the challenge. Only 11 users dropped off between Day 5 and Day 10.

26 out of 86 users created a habit.

In addition to participatory data, additional feedback was gathered by interspersing survey questions into the challenge. This additional questioning determined that 91% of challenge-takers feel they can afford to buy soap for their families.

Feedback:

Users had overwhelmingly positive feedback about the challenge.

It was so educating and hygienically I have improved. It’s now a routine to me, washing hands in any case

Learnings:

Keep it simple

  • It’s not always necessary to create a fancy app to push a new activity. The U Afya 10-Day Challenge was built on a platform that users are already familiar with. By building it into their current environment, it offered them something new and exciting on their visit.
  • Users were required to do one thing each day and report it with one action i.e. taking a single-question survey. Requiring minimal effort from your users can maximise uptake.
  • Overall the approach was simplicity. Simplicity in the design of the functionality, simplicity in the daily action and simplicity in creating a habit.
  • With this approach the U Afya 10-Day Handwashing Challenge helped 26 young mothers to create a new habit of washing their hands every day at key moments.

Conclusion:

This first iteration of U Afya’s 10-Day Handwashing Challenge was a pilot, but the results suggest that it is possible to use low-cost, low-tech means to encourage habit formation. It is also possible for sophisticated behaviour change theory and practice to reach some of the most vulnerable groups, using the very phones they have in their hands.

It is also a useful tool to help us to understand the impact of our behaviour change campaigns in the real world.