Workshop: Behavioral Economic Nudges to Social Programs: An Introduction to Behavioral Mapping

Saturday, November 10, 2012: 1:45 PM-3:15 PM
Hopkins (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Organizers:  Alexandra Fiorillo, ideas42
Speakers:  Alexandra Fiorillo, ideas42 and Lashawn Richburg-Hayes, MDRC

Many social programs are designed such that individuals must make decisions and go through a series of steps to benefit from them, from deciding to apply to a program to completing forms, attending meetings, and arranging travel and child care. Over the past 30 years, innovative research in the area of “behavioral economics” has shown that human decision-making is often imperfect and imprecise. People — clients and program administrators alike — procrastinate, get overwhelmed by choices, miss details, have limited self-control, and rely on mental shortcuts. Small changes to the choice environment (“nudges”) can have large effects on their decisions. Theories and research from behavioral economics can offer a new perspective on critical issues in public administration and the design of public programs and policy at administrative, supervisory, front-line worker and client levels. This workshop will describe the insights and learning developed from one of the first major projects to apply behavioral economics to social programs that serve poor families in the United States - the Behavioral Interventions for Advancing Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project sponsored by the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. During the initial two years of the project, MDRC and ideas42 have spoken with nearly 100 stakeholders to glean areas of most promising relevance for behavioral economics, conducted a survey of field experiments to determine commonly-applied insights, and launched several partnerships in TANF, child care and child support to explore developing and implementing behavioral economics interventions on the ground. Principal investigators from the BIAS research team along with federal officials will guide workshop participants through an applied behavioral framework that can be used to identify challenges in program operations or policy implementation that may be overcome through a behaviourally-informed intervention. The workshop will begin with a brief introduction to behavioral economics and its previous applications in public policy and administration. Participants will then join in an inter-active exercise to apply a behavioral framework in the areas of social policy through four case studies of current behavioral mapping exercises: the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Illinois’ TANF program, Maine’s child care quality rating system and Texas’ child support program. Through an introduction to behavioral economics and the applied mapping exercise, workshop participants will receive an introduction to a blueprint for the types of behavioral interventions that may be considered in a range of public policy and social assistance arenas. We aim to include comments and perspectives from several policy stakeholders who we have engaged with at various points of the project in discussing the application of behavioral economics to social programs such as Matthew Stagner in areas related to child welfare, homeless youth and relationship programs, Maria Cancian on child support, and LaDonna Pavetti on TANF. These experts have tentatively agreed to participate, as have members of the BIAS team and several federal officers, if this workshop proposal should be accepted.

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