Agenda, Scope, and Goals
MDRC’s Center for Applied Behavioral Science (CABS) incorporates behavioral strategies into social programs to learn what works to improve program outcomes. Behavioral science sheds light on human decision-making and behavior to better understand how and why people make the choices that they do. Insights from the field are currently being applied to a diverse set of problems and contexts, and the application to social programs is a growing trend in public policy. MDRC has abundant expertise working within complex government agencies and programs. Since our founding more than 40 years ago, we have played a unique role in designing promising new interventions, improving existing programs, conducting rigorous evaluations, and providing technical assistance to build stronger programs and deliver effective interventions at scale. MDRC is known for mounting large-scale demonstrations and evaluations of real-world policies and programs serving low-income people. Interventions designed under the Center contribute to and improve other MDRC initiatives, enhancing the likelihood of finding cost-effective solutions to the most pressing issues.
CABS projects are based on detailed descriptions of how people actually behave in the real world, opposed to how people “should” behave. For example, people are likely to choose the path of least resistance, have shifting preferences, and are often not realistic with their timelines for getting things done. One study conducted by MDRC, as part of the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency project, incorporated a plan-making device that encouraged participants to write down when and how they intended to complete a task, which led to more people completing the action.
Recognizing these human tendencies, and developing interventions that account for them, may ultimately improve the programs MDRC works with that serve low-income and at-risk populations. Problems undertaken by CABS are identified through an exploration phase, in partnership with a program or agency, and then addressed by applying behavioral insights. Many behavioral strategies can be implemented within the current environment of government cutbacks and limited budgets for strategic improvements because they are low-cost and reasonably straightforward to implement. Interventions under the Center are evaluated to determine if they are effective at addressing the given issue.