The Four Chickens Problem

The most effective way to prevent death by malaria is by using long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets. Yet organizations that distribute these nets have discovered that the folks who receive the nets sometimes choose to trade them for four chickens rather than use the nets. Why?

  • The four chickens solve an immediate, obvious and painful problem — hunger.
  • The net addresses a future, less obvious problem.
  • They know that a chicken and its eggs will give relief.
  • They don’t always realize that mosquitoes cause malaria and, therefore, don’t understand the value of the solution represented by the net.

In Enterprise 2.0 implementations, if we aren’t very careful about what we’re offering and to whom, we can end up distributing nets to people who don’t understand their need for them.  As a result, they ignore our solution in favor of doing nothing or doing something else that provides immediate relief to the problem they (rather than you) have identified.  To be clear, I’m not suggesting that an E2.0 implementation is as important as saving lives.  However, I do think knowledge management teams can learn from the experience of  organizations fighting malaria because the fundamentals of human behavior and change management they face and we face are the same.  In order to achieve changed behavior (or adoption of a new tool) we must:

  • Educate people as to the actual cause of the problem.
  • Educate people as to the theoretical benefits of the proposed solution.
  • Prove the solution in such an obvious way so that you make the theoretical real.
  • Include monitoring and evaluation to keep proving your case as you implement the solution in their community.

Don’t just throw your nets (or E2.0 solution) at the nearest group of people.   You can’t solve problems they don’t realize exist.  If they are unaware of the problem, you’ll have to embark on the longer process of educating them so that they truly understand the issue they are facing and are ready to do something productive to alleviate it.  Otherwise, all you’re doing is providing a chicken dinner.

For more information on the enormous benefits of malaria nets, see the NetsforLife website.  (Disclosure:  This is an organization my family supports.)

[Photo Credit:  Broterham]