Behavioural insights for community-based organisations

  • 2020

Across Canada, a wide range of vital social services are delivered by community-based organisations with support from government funders.

These organisations are often small, stretched thin and heavily scrutinised. This provides little opportunity to develop new capabilities and service models, or for the organisations to evaluate their own work.

At the same time, these organisations offer some of the very best opportunities to generate social impact through behavioural insights. They have deep, sustained and trusting relationships with people in their communities, and they often serve residents who are experiencing severe scarcity of time and resources.

The question is how to embed rigorous behavioural insights into their programming given these significant limitations.

BIT Canada is working with United Way Halton and Hamilton to start answering this question, with generous support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and Employment and Social Development Canada. We are engaged in a multi-year effort to demonstrate the value of behavioural insights at the community organisation level (with a focus on financial empowerment). This work will also involve building up sectoral capacity across the region and establishing a model for ongoing behavioural insights work – without the need for BIT at the helm.

We’re just getting started, but we’ve already had meaningful success. A small, pilot randomised controlled trial with the Oak Park Neighbourhood Centre (OPNC) showed that using ’active choice framing’ was correlated with a four-fold increase in OPNC members engaging with a free tax-filing service. This service is often worth thousands of dollars in otherwise unclaimed benefits.