Giving Compass' Take:

• ideas42 outlines ways for governments to use behavioral science-based 'nudges' to improve the use of public services. 

• How can donors help implement these changes in government? What would be the most effective nudge for your area? 

• Learn about MDRC's BIAS project, the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency.

This playbook explores the promise and practicalities of Behavioral Designs Teams (BDTs) within government. These teams are groups of behavioral design specialists that embed within a public administration to improve the jurisdiction’s ability to effectively and efficiently carry out its work. BDTs approach challenges and opportunities from a behavioral design perspective. That is, they leverage insights from the fields of behavioral science and impact evaluation.

Behavioral science uses research from psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral economics to understand the intricacies of human choice and action. The way information is presented or the environment in which a person makes decisions can have a large, and often counterintuitive, impact on how he or she behaves. Behavioral science helps identify the often predictable ways that such contexts affect human behavior. Resulting insights can be used to help people do more of what they want and less of what they don’t. When behavioral science is combined with impact evaluation—the use of rigorous methods to understand the effectiveness of policies and programs—BDTs are able to rapidly iterate and design improvements that account for how people actually behave, rather than how we think they should.

A behavioral design approach is particularly useful to governments because the success of policies, programs, and services depends on people’s decisions and actions. Whether a workforce development program results in employment depends on people actually showing up. Whether the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) helps feed families depends on people persisting through a lengthy application process. Whether a gifted and talented program helps close the achievement gap between low- and high-income students depends on low-income families applying for the program. Using the behavioral design process to help solve these issues often results in low-cost interventions that are also easy to implement. This is a particularly compelling feature for government, because behavioral design can generate important results through small changes that are basically cost-neutral. In this way, behavioral design can help governments navigate budget constraints while still providing effective services in the communities that need them most.