‘Nudge theory’ deployed to save National Park toilets

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The toilets in Oze National Park, which straddles the four prefectures of Fukushima, Tochigi, Gunma and Niigata, are in danger of disappearing for lack of donations from park visitors collected as maintenance expenses.

In hopes of resolving this crisis, the Oze Preservation Foundation, which looks after the park, has launched a project using the so-called fiscal year 2021 boost theory through March.

The organization found the amount of donations increased after it posted posters with photographs of people watching.

Many national parks and other facilities in nature conservation areas with large numbers of visitors have to deal with collecting donations from visitors to cover toilet maintenance costs.

The nudge theory aims to influence behavior in a positive direction. As the word “nudge” suggests, the method encourages people to perform a particular action creatively and at low cost.

As the Oze park does not have any sewage, the waste from the toilets undergoes a drying treatment before being transported by helicopter out of the park. The foundation spends about 10 million yen every year to maintain the toilets.

The foundation placed boxes in front of the restrooms asking visitors to donate ¥100 each time they use the facilities. But only about 30% of toilet users contributed.

As part of the project, carried out between September and October last year, the foundation put up posters with pictures, such as that of a child staring, at the entrance to toilets for a period of 20 days.

Like the crime prevention stickers used in Japan with eyes with kumadori kabuki makeup, images of human eyes are thought to encourage people to follow the rules.

For another 20 days, the foundation set up two side-by-side donation boxes, each with a different photograph of the park’s landscape.

Visitors were asked to choose which of the two images they preferred and to donate money in the corresponding box. The foundation expected people to want to give for the pleasure of selecting.

In August last year, the average donation amount per user was ¥24.8.

The average rose ¥10 from this level during the first 20 days of the project, while the amount dropped ¥2.3 during the days the voting method was implemented.

The project “led to a hypothesis that it is effective to trick visitors into thinking they are being watched,” said Yusuke Tanaka, an executive at the foundation.

On the other hand, the per-scene voting method may have made users feel less pressured into making payments, he added.

The foundation plans to continue the project this fiscal year to find a way to address the donation shortage.

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