Her Excellency Dr. Aisha Butti Bin Bishr, Director General of the Smart Dubai Office (Centre)/ Photo credit: Dubai Government media office

Her Excellency Dr. Aisha Butti Bin Bishr, Director General of the Smart Dubai Office (Centre)/ Photo credit: Dubai Government media office

Dubai trialling app based on behavioural science to improve timely payment of fines

The Smart Dubai Office and Dubai Police announced a collaboration on November 27 for trialling a new app designed to reduce people’s reluctance to pay their fines on time and, more importantly, to make them feel better about paying the fine.

The project, Happy to Pay, is a part of the Happiness Agenda that was launched in May 2016, by HH Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE, Ruler of Dubai. (Click here to read our interview on the Happiness Agenda with Her Excellency Dr. Aisha Butti Bin Bishr, Director General of the Smart Dubai Office)

The project is described by the press release as a practical application of behavioural economics in policy-making, which is being adopted by advanced government units such as Behavioural Insights Unit in the UK government, and SBST (Social and Behavioral Sciences Team) in the US government. Insights from behavioural science can be used to provide ‘nudges’ or interventions that steer people in a particular direction while preserving freedom of choice.

Working together with leading scientists from the University of Oxford and Harvard Business School, the Dubai team have developed a new version of the Dubai Police app, that allows users to pay their traffic fines, but with subtle differences that will be tested for their effectiveness in raising both compliance and happiness.

Based on data published by the Department of Finance, users will be presented with details of how the government budget is allocated in 2017, so that they will have a clear view of how funds from their fines will be spent, being allocated amongst sectors such as health, infrastructure, safety, and education. The app is thereby to expected to spur enhanced engagement with users.

As the users will be able to better understand how their payment contributes towards public services, it is hoped that they would see the fine as more than a mere penalty and there would be improvement in the rate of timely payments.

The trial will be conducted as a Randomised-Controlled Trial (RCT) , using the same strict methods used in assessing clinical trials, because of the need to ensure evidence-based decisions.

The trial will allow the scientists to gauge the extent that transparency and participation influences people’s engagement with civic life and ultimately increase their happiness in Dubai. In addition to the potentially valuable social benefits, there are also financial benefits, where the data is expected to show how users will pay their fines earlier, and reduce the likelihood of long-term delays in unpaid fines.

Based on the analysis of results obtained from this trial, the design of the Dubai Police app will be enhanced, and the results will eventually be published in international scientific journals. The design enhancements will be based on scientific evidence for the best outcome towards happiness in Dubai.

Dr. Aisha said, “Launching the ‘Happy to Pay’ service and application is an unprecedented milestone in the region and a rare and significant achievement on a global level. The technology helps transform the task of collecting fines into a community effort, and promotes the development of various sectors.”

“While many countries around the world still view happiness as an abstract issue, we in the UAE, have succeeded in transforming it into a real-life experience for the citizens, residents and visitors of the city. Developed in collaboration with experts from the Universities of Oxford and Harvard, the application borrows its design from the theories and foundations of human behavioural science. It allows individuals to pay their fines at a location of their preference, engaging them in nation-wide development efforts,” Dr. Aisha added.

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