Ah incentives. This is a great interview with NYC Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs about their cash incentive program. The Mexico model was the one that was explained to us in New Orleans back in 2006 (by the same public health researcher that is now working for NYC) and became the basis of the markets’ innovative work on the Gulf Coast which continues to this day. We understood (because of her training) that we were using cash as a short-term way to reduce significant barriers around open-air farmers markets, especially for low-income shoppers that face barriers such as lack of transportation, short market hours (that are often at odds with service workers schedules), the need to learn new shopping behavior, the perception of markets as elitist and so on.
To me, markets are in the business of incentivizing behavior change and we use many tools to that end: events, seating, music, children’s educational resources, support for farmers to grow their businesses and so on. Cash incentives are now well understood by public health activists and so were brought to our markets as an efficient way to do targeted outreach to at-risk communities. It’s not the answer to all of our market issues, but it has allowed us to regain our rightful place as the center of innovation in community food systems and to add some disciplined measurement strategies to our portfolio.
I really like how the NYC describes this in the interview; I like the analogy of the tax code as being a set of incentives as well.
The entire series Freakonomics is based on incentives as well. Check that out for a macro view of the subject.
Link to interview