Behavioral science sheds light on human decision-making and behavior to better understand why people make the choices that they do. Designers of social services often expect that clients will understand their many choices and obligations, respond appropriately to notices, recognize the benefits of supportive services, and diligently follow through. When these expectations are not met, the response is often to impose enforcement mechanisms assuming that all clients are consciously choosing not to cooperate. Too often, designers do not take into account the obstacles people must overcome in order to access programs and services. Designers also must navigate complex policy and regulatory requirements, finding ways to develop programs that follow applicable rules while still decreasing obstacles that may turn people away. Insights from behavioral science demonstrate that small hassles, in fact, create significant barriers that can prevent those in need of services from receiving them. People have limits on attention, are overly optimistic, and are subject to miscalculations in their reasoning. Findings about these “behavioral bottlenecks” can be used to improve the way programs are designed and implemented.
The Behavioral Interventions for Child Support Services (BICS) demonstration project is sponsored by the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) of the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The project aims to apply behavioral insights to child support contexts, to develop promising behavioral interventions, and to build a culture of regular, rapid-cycle evaluation and critical inquiry within the child support community.
Agencies in California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Ohio, Texas, Vermont, and Washington have been awarded cooperative agreements to explore the application of behavioral science to their child support services.