WE Affiliate Week: Using Social and Behavior Insights to Improve Outcomes by Stephanie Cabell

My name is Stephanie Cabell and in my role as an evaluation advisor at the State Department, I have the pleasure of engaging with and learning from many smart people from a number of disciplines, including the behavioral and social sciences field.

Behavioral science is a relatively young field and governments have only recently begun using its insights to inform public policy.  More than a dozen countries, including the U.S., have teams of behavioral scientists working with policy makers and government agencies to improve efficiencies for their citizens. The goal:  to improve user access to information and programs in order to help citizens make more informed decisions for their well-being, or that deliver better results at a lower cost for the American people.  Federal agencies are in the nascent stages of developing strategies to apply social and behavioral sciences insights to programs and, where possible, to rigorously test and evaluate the impact of these insights.

Hot Tip: Behavioral science insights can be an effective design tool and component of program logic models and establishing theories of change.  Whether designing a program that requires individuals to work through an online application process, or a program where beneficiaries might have to travel far to obtain services, behavioral science insights can help discern how to optimize outcomes for individuals—information that is then factored into a program’s goals and objective.

Cool Trick: You can blend behavioral science and evidence-based decision making to maximize the range of feedback or data collected and analyzed from programs.

Rad Resources:

  • Visit the National Sciences and Technology Council’s Social and Behavioral Sciences Team’s website for a primer in behavioral sciences insights and its application in the work of government agencies.
  • A counterpart to the United States’ Social and Behavioral Sciences Team is the United Kingdom’s Behavioral Insights Team.  The U.K. team has had success using behavioral sciences insights to design and build scalable products and services that have social impact.
  • There are numerous institutions of higher education throughout the United States that offer graduate-level courses and programs in social and behavioral sciences. A good place to research schools is by visiting the College Board’s website.

Lessons Learned:

  • Government agencies can use social and behavioral sciences insights to simplify the presentation of complex information in programs and, thus, have more consistency in how individuals choose or make decisions.
  • A central insights from social and behavioral science is that there is not yet consensus on whether people respond to incentives, monetary and non-monetary incentives, as a means of getting individuals to take specific actions. Research to date suggests that people are more likely to take advantage of an incentive if they can benefit immediately from it rather than at a later date, such as is the case with a tax credit. This is an area still ripe for research.
  • Federal, state and local government agencies can incorporate social and behavioral sciences insights into broader evidence-based initiatives, and embed it into the fabric of program and project design for better outcomes for people.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Washington Evaluators (WE) Affiliate Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from WE Affiliate members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


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