Shouldn’t We Make It Easy to Use Behavioral Science for Good?

This article is part of our special issue “Nudge Turns 10,” which explores the intersection of behavioral science and public policy. View the complete issue here.

The evidence showing that applied behavioral science is a powerful tool for creating social good is growing rapidly. As a result, it’s become much more common for the world’s problem solvers to apply a behavioral lens to their work. Yet this approach can still feel distant to the people trying urgently to improve lives on a daily basis—those working for governments, nonprofits, and other organizations that directly tackle some of the most challenging and pervasive problems facing us today.

All too often, effective strategies for change are either locked behind paywalls or buried in inaccessible, jargon-laden articles. And because of the sheer volume of behavioral solutions being tested now, even people working in the fields that compose the behavioral sciences—like me, for instance—cannot possibly stay on top of every new intervention or application happening across countless fields and countries. This means missed opportunities to apply and scale effective interventions and to do more good in the world.

As a field, figuring out how to effectively report and communicate what we’ve learned from our research and interventions is our own “last mile” problem.

As a field, figuring out how to effectively report and communicate what we’ve learned from our research and interventions is our own “last mile” problem.

While there is no silver bullet for the problems the world faces, the behavioral science community should (and can) come together to make our battle-tested solutions available to problem solvers, right at their fingertips. Expanding the adoption of behavioral design for social good requires freeing solutions from dense journals and cost-prohibitive paywalls. It also requires distilling complex designs into simpler steps—uniting a community that is passionate about social impact and making the world a better place with applied behavioral science.

That is the aim of the Behavioral Evidence Hub (B-Hub), a curated, open-source digital collection of behavioral interventions proven to impact real-world problems. Each entry on the B-Hub provides a clear, nonacademic explanation of a specific—and successful—behavioral design that was used to tackle a real-world problem. Summaries include images of the actual design materials used in interventions and an overview of their impact as evaluated by a randomized controlled trial. There are also guidelines for applying the strategy in new contexts.

Because a database for behavioral interventions must be behaviorally optimized, the B-Hub also houses actionable features like behavioral checklists for quickly identifying ways to optimize existing programs, and notes from top researchers on what didn’t work, highlighting important factors to consider in design. The site also links to other behavioral science resources and tools to help people get everything they need to design and test a solution. Most importantly, B-Hub is free and accessible to all.

Creating a hub of searchable insights can help policymakers, researchers, and others applying behavioral science to leverage behavioral tools to improve people’s lives. Many of the featured interventions highlight government programs or services with social impact. For example, the city of Philadelphia tested letters that used loss-aversion framing and social norms to encourage more senior citizens to apply for a senior discount on their water bills. In San Mateo County, Calif., behaviorally designed text messages were sent to residents to remind them to vote in a local election and increase turnout. In the Philippines, fewer people sold their votes when asked if they would promise not to in advance of an election. By sharing details on how these interventions were designed and guidelines for implementing them in an open-source, easy-to-use format, others can now adapt the strategies for new contexts. This could help vulnerable populations save more money, strengthen the integrity of the world’s democratic institutions, and more.

Bringing our field out of the darkness of the paywalls and inaccessible articles and into the light is now just a few clicks away. The more that we in the behavioral science community add to this resource, the more policymakers and practitioners have to work with.

Bringing our field out of the darkness of the paywalls and inaccessible articles and into the light is now just a few clicks away.

The B-Hub has been accessed by people in over 140 countries, suggesting that there is interest, and potentially unmet demand, for behavioral science resources around the world.

In my own work, I meet countless people doing the hard work of applying behavioral science interventions every day. Even if I spent all of my time doing literature reviews and reading every academic article out there, I wouldn’t have a complete view of the behavioral science universe. Similarly, we cannot expect policymakers and practitioners who aren’t surrounded by behavioral science day in and day out to have a comprehensive picture of all the problem-solving strategies the field has put forward—at lease, we can’t expect it without a central place to access this information.

But by packaging what works—particularly cheap, effective, and easy-to-implement behavioral solutions that can be tested and iterated on—and laying the groundwork to apply it in new places, with new populations, and to new problems, behavioral scientists can support others working for social change, helping equip them to impact millions of lives around the world.