Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency-Next Generation


The goal of human services programs is to help individuals and families meet critical needs and improve their well-being. But many of these programs require participants to navigate complicated processes—involving many decisions and actions—to receive resources and services. Behavioral science research generates insights about human behavior, including how and why people make decisions and act. This research has demonstrated, for example, that seemingly small changes to how information is presented can have outsized impacts on outcomes. Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency-Next Generation (BIAS-NG) is working to incorporate what we know about behavior into human services program design. By reshaping processes to better support participants in making key decisions and taking needed actions, the project aims to make human services programs work better for the people accessing services.

The Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project, led by MDRC and sponsored by the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was the first major effort to apply behavioral insights to programs for families with low incomes. From 2010 to 2016, the BIAS project used insights from behavioral science to design and test 15 interventions with nearly 100,000 participants across seven states. The results of these random assignment tests demonstrated the promise of using principles of behavioral science to improve human services program outcomes. BIAS interventions increased on-time child care subsidy renewals and working families’ use of high-quality child care; boosted the frequency of child support payments and modification requests; and fostered engagement in social service activities, like welfare-to-work programs.

Following the success of these 15 initial trials, ACF launched the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency-Next Generation (BIAS-NG) project in 2015, to delve further into the potential applications of behavioral science to human services. BIAS-NG is led by MDRC in collaboration with MEF Associates, Child Trends, and top university scholars.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

The BIAS-NG team is building on the activities and lessons of the original BIAS project in several important ways, including:

  • Expanding to additional ACF programs, such as child welfare programs and Head Start, and working with additional Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) agencies to help them deliver services more efficiently and effectively
  • Integrating a wider range of changes informed by behavioral science, going beyond simple program tweaks into the way programs are designed and choices are presented to participants
  • Enhancing the body of knowledge about behavioral science interventions through, for example, implementation research designed to reveal how the interventions work or do not work
  • Synthesizing insights and translating findings into practical lessons for human services practitioners

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

The design of the interventions in BIAS-NG is determined through a collaborative process with ACF, local program leaders and staff, program participants, and behavioral science experts. Each intervention is tested using a random assignment research design. Administrative records from the programs are the primary data sources for these evaluations.

BIAS-NG is designing and testing behavioral interventions in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), child welfare, and Head Start/Early Head Start programs. The project is collaborating with TANF programs in Los Angeles County (CA), Monroe County (NY), and Washington State to improve participation in welfare-to-work activities. In child welfare, BIAS-NG is working with the child welfare program in Allegheny County (PA) to increase family engagement and with the program in Los Angeles County to increase the number of qualified families who complete application steps to become foster or adoptive parents. In Head Start/Early Head Start, the BIAS-NG team is collaborating with two providers in Wayne County (MI) to better understand participation and engagement challenges experienced by Head Start families to design and test behavioral interventions to strengthen the programs.