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The Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project, launched in 2010, was the first major project to apply behavioral insights to the human services programs that serve poor and vulnerable families in the United States. The goal of the project was to learn how tools from behavioral science could be used to deliver program services more effectively and, ultimately, improve the well-being of low-income children, adults, and families.
Following a systematic approach called behavioral diagnosis and design, 15 state and local agencies participated in the project, which consisted of identifying problems that are appropriate for behavioral interventions, designing interventions, and conducting rigorous tests — where appropriate — to determine whether the interventions improved outcomes. The team launched 15 tests of behavioral interventions, involving close to 100,000 clients, in eight of the participating agencies. These tests spanned three domains: child support, child care, and work support.
Each of the BIAS studies suggests that the context of the program matters: For example, in some sites the intervention involved making deadlines prominent, among other concepts, while in other sites no work involving deadlines was explored. In most sites, clients were aided through reminders, multiple opportunities to perform a task, and additional help at critical junctures — all ways that programs can provide relief for cognitive burdens.
BIAS was deliberately focused on designing simple, low-cost interventions or nudges. Having established that behavioral science concepts can be implemented in human services programs and that such interventions can improve outcomes, the applied behavioral science field is poised to move to the next stage of more intensive behavioral interventions. As described in the commentaries that follow, these intensive interventions may start to blur the lines between what is considered to be behavioral and what is considered to be a traditional neoclassical economic approach. This blurring may be desirable, as such a development would mean that considering real human behavior when designing programs has become commonplace.