Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity

We conduct an adaptive randomized controlled trial to evaluate the impact of a SMS-based information campaign on the adoption of social distancing and handwashing in rural Bihar, India, six months into the COVID-19 pandemic. We test 10 arms that vary in delivery timing and message framing, changing content to highlight gains or losses for either one’s own family or community. We identify the optimal treatment separately for each targeted behavior by adaptively allocating shares across arms over 10 experimental rounds using exploration sampling (Kasy and Sautmann, 2021). Based on phone surveys with nearly 4,000 households and using several elicitation methods, we do not find evidence of impact on knowledge or adoption of preventive health behavior, and our confidence intervals cannot rule out positive effects as large as 5.5 percentage points, or 16 percent. Our results suggest that SMS-based information campaigns may have limited efficacy after the initial phase of a pandemic.

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