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  • 6th Jan 2021

BIT Goes to Washington

One Year In

It’s now one year since BIT set up an office in Washington, DC, and it’s been an exciting but unusual time. The coronavirus crisis meant that much of our work focused on informing the COVID-19 pandemic response through rapid messaging trials. However we also found time to tackle other policy challenges too, such as expanding diversity in state government workforces and reducing victimization of bus operators in Washington, DC. 

A major goal of every BIT office is to achieve greater social impact by incorporating behavioral science and empiricism throughout government. Our DC office has been no exception, training over 400 state and federal government employees in behavioral science techniques and rapid evaluation methods in the past 12 months. 

And there is more to look forward to in 2021. In 2018, the U.S. Congress passed the bipartisan Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, which provides a framework for federal agencies to use tools like behavioral science and low-cost evaluation more widely. As agencies work to meet the Evidence Act’s requirements, many are now including behavioral science and rapid experimentation in their evaluation plans for 2021. 

The arrival of a new president in the Oval Office also brings with it the opportunity to use behavioral science to address the incoming Administration’s key priority areas, including the response to COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity, and climate change. Indeed, behavioral scientists have already started calling for President-Elect Joe Biden to add behavioral scientists to the President-Elect’s COVID-19 Task Force.

These calls are justified partly because we have increasingly solid evidence of the impact that behavioral science can have for U.S. policymakers. The DC office recently laid out this evidence base to an audience of 150 federal officials, in an event organized by the Office of Evaluation Sciences (OES, part of the U.S. General Services Administration). 

Here we discussed the findings from a paper written by Dr. Elizabeth Linos and Dr. Stefano DellaVigna, both from University of California, Berkeley, which compares findings from academic research studies with those done by OES and BIT North America, two of the largest so-called “nudge units” in the United States. As we noted in a previous blog, the analysis of 126 RCTs affecting more than 23 million people finds reliable evidence that these interventions were having an impact at scale. 

Excitingly, interest in using these tools and methods continues to grow from federal and state governments in the United States. In December, the non-partisan Partnership for Public Service, along with Grant Thornton, released a new report entitled A Nudge in the Right Direction, which looks at how behavioral science can make the federal government more efficient and effective. The report draws on BIT’s EAST Framework to emphasize how these tools can apply to federal agencies. Additionally, in 2020 our DC office participated in the Partnership’s workshops and the most recent report launch event

Despite the events of this past year, where finding things to celebrate was more difficult than usual, we are excited to celebrate all we have been able to accomplish in Washington, DC so far – and are looking ahead to 2021. As U.S. state and federal governments continue to advance the use of data and evidence, we are optimistic about the growing opportunities to use behavioral science to generate social impact, whether in terms of reducing sludge or addressing biases in government decision making itself. These opportunities and their potential for driving positive impact are helping us to feel optimistic about 2021. 

If you would like to discuss our work in U.S. state and federal government, please contact Lindsay Moore at lindsay.moore@bi.team. 

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