Blue Spoons: Sparking Communication About Appropriate Technology Use
An enduring puzzle regarding technology adoption in developing countries is that new technologies often diffuse slowly through the social network. Two of the key predictions of the canonical epidemiological model of technology diffusion are that forums to share information and higher returns to technology should both spur social transmission. We design a large-scale experiment to test these predictions among farmers in Western Kenya, and we fail to find support for either. However, in the same context, we introduce a technology that diffuses very fast: a simple kitchen spoon (painted in blue) to measure out how much fertilizer to use. We develop a model that explains both the failure of the standard approaches and the surprising success of this new technology. The core idea of the model is that not all information is reliable, and farmers are reluctant to develop a reputation of passing along false information. The model and data suggest that there is value in developing simple, transparent technologies to facilitate communication.
We are grateful to Abhijit Banerjee, Lori Beaman, Emily Breza, Ben Golub, Dean Karlan, Maddie McKelway, and Chris Udry for helpful feedback. We thank Sara Hernandez, Raissa Fabregras, Thomas Ginn, Kim Siegal, Connor Brannen, and the entire team in IPA Kenya for outstanding field research. Special thanks to Raissa Fabregas for coming up with the name “blue spoon” and to Bryan Plummer and numerous other volunteers for transporting thousands of kitchen spoons to Kenya and for separating them one-by-one. We are grateful to Bharat Chandar for exceptional research assistance. The project was approved by MIT IRB COUHES protocol #1004003833. We gratefully acknowledge financial support from ATAI, USAID DIV, and an anonymous donor. Chandrasekhar is grateful to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for financial support. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Disclosure Statement of Michael Kremer
Co-author of “Blue Spoons: Sparking Communication About Appropriate Technology Use”
1. I am a faculty member at the University of Chicago, where I also direct the Development Innovation Lab and Development Economics Center.
2. I am Counselor to the USAID Administrator on Open Innovation and Scientific Director of USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures.