In this commentary originally published in Route Fifty, experts from MDRC’s Center for Applied Behavioral Science and BIT North America describe how government agencies can use behavioral science to adapt policies, programs, and services during the continuing pandemic crisis.
Home Visiting and Coordinated and Integrated Early Childhood Systems
Funders at all levels are investing in programs to support expectant parents and families with young children. MDRC is conducting research in that field in three areas: integrating systems of services that work together, getting families and children the right services, and building evidence about promising models.
The Center for Applied Behavioral Science (CABS) combines MDRC’s decades of experience tackling social policy issues with insights from behavioral science. This graphic explains the CABS’s approach to solving problems.
Lessons from the BIAS Project
The Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project launched an intervention in California to engage families in a welfare-to-work program and another intervention in New York to encourage low-income single adults without dependent children to attend a meeting about an earnings supplement program intended to provide an incentive to work.
The SIMPLER framework was developed for the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project ― the first major effort to apply behavioral insights to human services programs in the United States. SIMPLER summarizes several key behavioral concepts that can guide practitioners interested in using behavioral insights to enhance service delivery.
Findings from Family Rewards 2.0
A program in Memphis and the Bronx offered cash incentives, coupled with family guidance, to poor families for meeting certain health care, education, and work milestones. The program increased income and reduced poverty, increased dental visits and health status, reduced employment somewhat, and had few effects on students’ education.
A Conditional Cash Transfer Program in Two American Cities
This program spent a little over a dollar to transfer one dollar in cash rewards to families who met the required benchmarks. These rewards produced positive effects on some outcomes, but left others unchanged. While the program benefited participating families, the cost to taxpayers exceeded the economic value of these effects.
What Worked, What Didn’t
Family Rewards offered cash incentives to low-income families to reduce both current and longer-term poverty, contingent on families’ efforts to build up their “human capital” through children’s education, preventive health care, and parents’ employment. While the program produced some positive effects on some outcomes, it left many outcomes unchanged.
Early Lessons from Family Rewards 2.0
This project builds on NYC’s earlier experiment with a conditional cash transfer program to reduce poverty and improve education, health, and employment outcomes. It tests a revised model in the Bronx and Memphis, adding family guidance to modified incentives paid more frequently. Early implementation findings suggest deeper family engagement.