From Intentions to Actions – Using Commitment Devices for Evidence Use 

From Intentions to Actions – Using Commitment Devices for Evidence Use 

Photo showing participants at an event in Nigeria.
Participants at the USAID/Nigeria HPN Multi-Activity Evaluation Event in June 2023. © Data for Impact

May 29, 2024

By Agata Slota

How can we get people to use evidence more in health programming? D4I recently tried something a little different—using ‘commitment devices’ or tools to lock people into accomplishing a goal.  Here’s what we learned. 

Commitment devices help us stick to a goal, even when it is tempting not to. They are ways to ‘lock ourselves’ into a behavior, often by selecting a penalty for deviating from a plan or a reward for sticking to it. A classic example is committing to donate to an ‘anti-charity’—that is, a charity one does not support—in the case of not meeting a personal goal, such as attending a gym three times a week. But commitment devices have been taken much further to address societal challenges, for instance in having tourists commit to protecting the environment

Data for Impact (D4I) conducted research on behavioral barriers and enablers to the use of global health evaluation findings. We thought commitment devices could help people adhere to a plan to use findings. While heaps of data are produced from program evaluations, just like with research evidence more generally, the data are not always used to make decisions. 

D4I’s research indicated that the lack of motivation to use evidence was not a problem among global health professionals working on USAID programs. In-depth interviews revealed that people clearly wanted to make a positive impact and were very aware of the benefits of using evidence. But being motivated is one thing, doing is another. People have large workloads; they are pressed for time. The gap between our (best) intentions and our actions is a well-documented phenomenon and is a key reason commitment devices are used. 

Commitment card
Commitment cards can promote the use of findings. Click the image above to view.

D4I tested two behavioral strategies to increase engagement with qualitative evaluation findings from the USAID/Nigeria Health, Population, and Nutrition (HPN) Multi-Activity Evaluation. One strategy included the use of a commitment device. (The second strategy is described in detail in the final report). 

In June 2023, D4I, in collaboration with Nigeria-based Data Research and Mapping Consult, Ltd. (DRMC), hosted a dissemination meeting to present qualitative findings to USAID/Nigeria and implementing partners from the four projects covered under the evaluation. D4I organized a two-part commitment activity for the day-long meeting. First, participants discussed how the findings applied to their work. Next, they completed a ‘Commitment Card’ tying themselves to an evidence-related goal.  

Participants selected their goal, along with a deadline and reminder. They then identified the next step they would take, and crucially, determined the penalty and/or reward for failing or for meeting their goal. A penalty could be declaring on their social media profile, “I didn’t accomplish an important goal.” A reward could be going to a favorite restaurant or buying themselves a present. The key was for participants to select penalties or rewards that they believed would motivate them.  At the end, participants signed the commitment card, with the intention that they would display it somewhere visibly to their colleagues, to create social accountability and further motivate adherence to the goal.  

Did it work? Sort of. Following the dissemination event, 77% of participants reported they found the session useful, a great start. However, based on feedback and observations during the event, adjustments are needed for future implementation. Here’s what we learned: 

  • Given the novelty of this activity for people in the evaluation context, there may be initial uncertainty or skepticism. Therefore, it is recommended to more actively engage leaders in advance to ensure their full participation and guidance of team members through the exercise.  
  • The activity should be conducted once participants have digested the evaluation findings and reflected on how the findings connect to their work. Therefore, the commitment card activity should be scheduled later in a dissemination event agenda or as a follow-up event. Participants need sufficient time to synthesize the evidence and reflect on how the findings impact their work.  
  • Frame the exercise, which centers on individual goals, within the context of a project or organization, where work tasks normally flow from organizational, project, or team decisions. Staff may need to wait for an agreement within their team on how to use the findings or may need to receive approval from their managers. Once team goals are set, individuals can then consider their individual goals within the team structure and complete the commitment card accordingly. 

Is this something your project would like to try to promote evidence use? D4I would appreciate hearing how your team implements this idea and whether it works. Contact us at

Agata Slota leads the D4I Behavioral Interventions for the Use of Evaluation Findings activity. She is a Social and Behavior Change Specialist, carrying out applied social research and implementing interventions rooted in insights from behavioral science and communications. Agata has master’s degrees in behavioral science and in international affairs.