The BIAS project is an ambitious effort to apply behavioral science principles to improving services related to child care, child support, and work support. As is the case with most behavioral research, the BIAS project focuses on individual client behavior. This approach provides significant benefits by allowing for low-cost, incremental improvements that can accumulate over time.

One extension to this individual-level approach would be to consider the behavior of individual staff members who work with those clients. Another beneficial but larger-scale extension could be to design macro behavioral interventions that target a group (for example, a family or work unit) or an entire organization (the larger context within which individuals behave).

While a focus on individual behavior change is a critical step in advancing practice, individual behavior is deeply and unavoidably embedded in organizational structures, processes, and norms.

The BIAS project emphasizes individual decision-making by assessing clients’ responses to concepts like social proof and social persuasion. But “thinking fast” — which refers to our automatic, instinctive decisions and actions — is often influenced by formal rules or titles as well as by group norms.

Much research has shown, however, that social influence is not just a matter of one individual’s authority — that is, not just one person influencing another person — but relies heavily on the group and the organization in which individuals make their choices.

Read the full article on behavioral interventions in systems by Sim Sitkin at MDRC.