Counting Everyone

The Challenge

How can people be motivated to act now, for benefits far off into the future?  

The Context

Ethiopia’s vital events registration system is one of the newest in the world. Launched in 2016, Ethiopian citizens have no modern history of formally registering their most significant milestones. Instead, people have relied – for centuries – on traditional, cultural and religious customs to mark their important moments: birth, death, marriage and divorce.  And for the millions of refugees that come into Ethiopia each year, their journey to registration is even more complex, bringing customs and traditions from several countries, coupled with expectations and fears associated  with coming to a new land. 

UNICEF asked us to help them and the Ethiopian Government design a behavioral strategy that would increase formal registration of births, deaths, marriages and divorces  for all those living in Ethiopia: both Ethiopian citizens and refugees.





UNICEF Ethiopia

Launched nation-wide in 2016, Ethiopia has one of the newest civil registration and vital statistics systems in the world. For refugees living in Ethiopia, registration only became possible one year later.

Partly due to this, Ethiopia has one of the lowest vital events registration rates in the world. 

Registration Rates in Ethiopia

As of March 2020, 24% of births, 7% of deaths, 9% of marriages and 4% of divorces have been registered nationally. 1 Among refugees, these rates are even lower.

What We Heard

We started by looking to Ethiopia’s neighbors, many of whom started on a similar journey decades ago. We wanted to know, what made their systems successful, and what could Ethiopia learn from them? We designed a behavioral model that hypothesized where people progressed and stumbled on their decision-making journey. Our Three Delays Model identified three key moments that – if influenced – could potentially change the course of registration for Ethiopian citizens and refugees alike. 

We needed to test our model in the real world. With our research partners Anthrologica, we spoke to people in charge of vital events registration: people working in Government offices, camps, communities, and even registrars working from home. Then we spoke to the people who were being asked to use the registration services: mothers, fathers, spouses, newlyweds, relatives of deceased family members, people who had migrated from South Sudan or Eritrea. They told us why they don’t register, and what would motivate them to do it. Aside from simply wanting to understand the process, their questions made sense: they wanted to know, what’s in it for me? What do I get out of registration? For some, the benefits are linked to inheritance or land they might claim decades away, or citizenship they thought they already had. For others, it’s linked to a food ration for a week. 

Our challenge was clear: make the benefits of registration easily visible, and make them feel tangible and close. Behavioral science tells us people are more likely to delay things when payoffs are too far into the future. And nothing sounds further into the future than planning for your inheritance.

Our Solution

Through a series of co-creation workshops with the Ethiopian Government and national stakeholders, we developed a  National Strategy that includes impactful, doable solutions to double the rates of birth registration, and significantly increase the other vital events registration in five years. 

The solutions include our signature blend of global science, regional best practice, and locally sourced solutions. They are rooted in local context and focus on win-win solutions designed with four principles in mind: Meet people where they are, make it easy, consider incentives, and always tackle supply and demand together.

  1.  INVEA July 2019 – March 2020 Administrative Data.

We can do great things together.