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Celebrating Argentina’s first behavioral insights unit

  • Blog
  • 3rd Jul 2024

Three years ago, Argentina’s first behavioral insights unit was born. 

The Behavioral Sciences and Public Policy Unit (UCCPP) was an incredible example of the promise for applied behavioral science in Latin America.

Led by Iván Budassi and Fernando Torrente, the eight-person team made great progress in just three years. They tested interventions, participated in meaningful public debate, provided evidence-based policy advice, and more.

However, much like when Lionel Messi left Barcelona, this first chapter of the UCCPP has come to a close. Luckily, their influence has touched many policy areas, and will live on far into the future. 

As the next phase of behavioral insights in government materializes, we want to celebrate the UCCPP’s accomplishments and our work together. We hope these reflections inspire other behavioral units in Latin America and beyond.

Creating the UCCPP

The idea for the UCCPP dates back to late 2019. But it wasn’t until July 2021 that they officially launched in the Government of Argentina’s Secretariat of Strategic Affairs with support from the Inter-American Development Bank’s Lead Economist, Dr. Florencia López Boo, and encouragement from BIT’s President Emeritus, David Halpern.

Behavioral science can take many forms within organizations, and BIT helped the UCCPP build strong foundations. We guided the UCCPP’s vision, assessed in selecting their initial projects, and provided expert advice for navigating challenges and opportunities.

Project spotlight: Vaccination chatbot

After the UCCPP’s structure and processes were set up, we undertook a flagship research project to increase COVID-19 booster vaccinations. 

Together, the UCCPP and BIT developed a WhatsApp chatbot intervention. We tested it through a large-scale randomized controlled trial in Chaco province, which has one of the highest poverty rates in Argentina.

The chatbot incorporated many behavioral principles to help people overcome behavioral barriers to vaccination, such as the friction costs of finding a health center and the gap between intending to get a booster and actually getting one. Notably, the chatbot uses:

  • The messenger effect by sending messages from the Ministry of Health’s official phone line, which is a respected, authoritative source.
  • Personalization, from the first message that shares information about the recipient’s eligibility to later messages that offer the addresses and opening hours of the nearest vaccine centers.
  • Timely reminders the day before recipients chose to get vaccinated, including Google Maps directions to their preferred vaccination center.

We’re very excited by the results of this trial and will share them as soon as we can, pending academic publication. In the meantime, the chatbot is being replicated and scaled in the Argentinian province of Tucumán.

Project spotlight: Organ donation

Another impactful UCCPP project rigorously explored the barriers to effective organ donation. Even though all adult Argentinians are opted in to be organ donors by default, there is often insufficient donorship to fulfill need.

To learn why it’s difficult to detect and report potential donors in hospitals, the UCCPP and Buenos Aires transplant authorities, CUCAIBA and EAIT, conducted a survey and interviewed health professionals.

Nearly 150 professionals working across intensive care units and transplant coordination shared their perceptions of the process and barriers to reporting donors in critical areas. With these insights, the UCCPP developed a manual of behavioral tools for hospital transplant coordination to help hospital staff detect and report potential donors more consistently. The manual is currently being implemented and evaluated across hospitals in Buenos Aires province.

The clear value of applied behavioral science in the public sector

The UCCPP’s work is a testament to the impact of applying a behavioral lens to social and policy challenges. In a short time, they were able to generate evidence to positively influence taxation, organ donation, vaccine uptake, and more.

Because the UCCPP made it a priority to publically share their findings, their legacy will live on. Other practitioners can benefit from their work in the Argentine Journal of Behavioral Sciences, participation in the United Nations Behavioral Science Week, and in an institutional memoir here.

The UCCPP also helped strengthen Argentina’s behavioral science network. They united the expertise of international organizations, such as the OECD, and local academics, NGOs, and consultants to advance behavioral science across the country. 

We are motivated by the growing promise and value of applied behavioral science in the Latin American public sector. BIT has helped set up behavioral insights units around the world, and we are always happy to discuss how we can support organizations’ behavioral capacity.

In the meantime, we’re excited to see what behavioral science practitioners in Argentina will accomplish next.