Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS), 2010-2016

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Many human services programs are designed such that individuals must make active decisions and go through a series of steps in order to benefit from them — from deciding which programs to apply for, to completing forms, attending meetings, showing proof of eligibility, and arranging travel and child care. Program designers often implicitly assume that individuals will carefully consider options and make decisions that maximize their well-being. But 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, and miss important details. As a result, both programs and participants may not always achieve the goals they set for themselves.

Insights from behavioral economics, which combines findings from psychology and economics, suggest that a deeper understanding of decision-making and behavior could improve human services program design and outcomes. Principles from behavioral economics can both shed light on decision-making and offer new tools to improve outcomes for program participants. For example, small changes in the environment can facilitate desired behaviors, planning and commitment devices can be used to improve self-control, and default rules can produce positive outcomes even for people who fail to act.

The Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project was the first major opportunity to apply a behavioral economics lens to programs that serve poor and vulnerable families in the United States. The purpose of the project was to apply behavioral insights to issues related to the design and implementation of social service programs and policies. The ultimate goal was to learn how tools from behavioral science can be used to improve the well-being of low-income children, adults, and families. BIAS was led by MDRC in collaboration with academic behavioral science experts.

In the first two years of the project, the BIAS team developed a strong base of knowledge of the existing behavioral economics literature and the needs of human services programs. The team engaged in detailed conversations with stakeholders from the academic, policy, and practitioner communities, created a glossary of behavioral interventions from a review of select field experiments, and hosted a Peer Practicum during which program administrators from across the nation joined with behavioral experts to explore the application of behavioral economics to ACF programs. The BIAS report “Behavioral Economics and Social Policy: Designing Innovative Solutions for Programs Supported by the Administration for Children and Families” describes insights from these early stages of the project.

Following this knowledge development phase, the BIAS team worked with select ACF programs to diagnosis program challenges using a behavioral economics lens and design and test behaviorally informed interventions. BIAS conducted 15 random assignment tests in seven states with nearly 100,000 sample members. Projects ranged from work to increase child support collections, to improving child care recertification processes, to changing the messaging around TANF participation. The results of these tests demonstrated the promise of applying insights from behavioral science to improve human services program outcomes.

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The point of contact is Victoria Kabak.

Related Resources

This report represents the final synthesis of the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency project. Overall, the project’s findings demonstrated that applying behavioral insights to challenges facing human services programs can improve program efficiency, operations, and outcomes at a relatively low cost.

The Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project demonstrated the value of applying insights from behavioral science to improve the efficacy of human services programs. This infographic captures key elements of the project, highlights the behavioral techniques most commonly used in BIAS, and summarizes results across the BIAS experiments...

This report describes a collaboration between the Washington State Division of Child Support and the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) research team that aimed to increase the number of incarcerated noncustodial parents in Washington who applied for modifications to reduce the amount of their child support orders...

This report describes collaboration between the Indiana Office of Early Childhood and Out-of-School Learning and the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency research team. That collaboration focused on the design and evaluation of three behavioral interventions aimed to improve outcomes at two points in the administration of Indiana’s Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF)...

This report presents findings from an intervention designed to increase the number of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients who “reengaged” in Los Angeles County’s welfare-to-work program...

This impact report from the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project presents findings from four tests of behavioral interventions intended to increase the percentage of parents who made child support payments and the dollar amount of collections per parent in Cuyahoga County, Ohio

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The Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) team diagnosed factors that might inhibit on-time renewal and designed three interventions for improvement...

This report presents findings from a study of two behavioral interventions — one that used behavioral messaging postcards and text message reminders to encourage participation in an optional meeting, and one that made the meeting easier to attend.

The goal of each intervention was to increase participant attendance at an optional informational meeting for Paycheck Plus, an earnings supplement program in which participants had previously enrolled. These meetings gave clients an...

This report presents findings from two behavioral interventions designed to increase the collection of child support payments in Franklin County, Ohio. As part of the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project, the Franklin County Child Support Enforcement Agency implemented two interventions informed by behavioral economics principles to increase child support payments from noncustodial parents who do not have income withholding and need to take action each month...

The Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project is the first major effort to apply a behavioral economics lens to programs that serve poor and vulnerable families in the United States. This report presents findings from a behavioral intervention designed to increase the number of incarcerated noncustodial parents in Texas who apply for modifications to reduce the amount of their child support orders. Using a method called “behavioral diagnosis and design”...

Updates on behavioral economics and the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project...

Updates on behavioral economics and the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project...

Updates on behavioral economics and the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project...

Updates on behavioral economics and the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project.

Updates on behavioral economics and the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project...

Updates on behavioral economics and the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project...

Updates on behavioral economics and the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project...

Updates on behavioral economics and the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project.

Updates on behavioral economics and the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project...