2 What is behavioral science and design?

Behavioral science uses research from psychology, neuroscience, and economics to understand the intricacies of human choice and action. The way information is presented and the environment in which people make decisions can have an outsized impact on behavior. Behavioral science helps us identify the – often predictable – ways that such contexts affect human behavior.

Insights about the way context affects human behavior lead practitioners to take a new approach to program and service design. Changing behavior requires more than just providing new information. People must also have a clear moment to choose and an easy opportunity to act on that choice. Behavioral design, which draws from a growing body of research about which cues or contexts elicit specific reactions, has been proven to improve programs and policies in the real world.

Behavioral design also draws from the field of impact evaluation, using rigorous empirical methods to measure the impact of programs and policies. By adopting randomized controlled trials, behavioral designers can determine with reasonable certainty whether interventions achieve their desired impact. Behavioral design can then create reliable evidence about what works and for whom, ensuring that organizations and institutions can maximize their impact, tailoring to the unique needs of the people they serve.