In the aftermath of COVID-19, which exposed so many of the racial inequalities in our society, local and state governments cannot simply offer an inferior version of what came before. Instead, they need to find meaningful improvements that will rebuild relationships and re-earn trust.

Getting this right is hard. While the last few months have seen great innovations, not every government response to Covid-19 has been a success story. In just one example, recent headlines describe long wait times for unemployment assistance compounded by increased caseloads and stress for staff. In response, we at Behavioral Insights Team (BIT) and the Center for Applied Behavioral Science at MDRC (CABS) have identified four priorities for governments to help them adapt policies, programs and services during this evolving crisis, based on our work applying behavioral science with dozens of public sector partners.

1. Make it easy for everyone. A simpler process can make the difference between someone receiving critical services versus giving up. Behavioral science has shown that every additional form or office visit can discourage follow-through.

2. Help people form new behaviors in a time of disruption. Disruptions can encourage people to think of creative solutions to existing problems. However, the mental scarcity many people are experiencing may make it daunting to marshal the energy and capacity to craft new routines and habits.

3. Show your work. People in high need of government support report lower than ever trust in state institutions. To increase the willingness of individuals to engage, governments have increasingly turned to “operational transparency,” where people are able to track how the agency makes progress on a project, possibly leading to an increase in citizen engagement.

4. Evaluate as you innovate. Good data helps leaders make difficult choices. Innovations will be most impactful if they are also used as opportunities to learn.

Read the full article about government adaptation during a pandemic by Michael Hallsworth et al. at Route Fifty.