What we do
Thanks to huge advances in the study of decision-making and behavior, we now understand people better than ever. Why do we do what we do? What drives our choices? Some of these new insights are counter-intuitive. Many are overlooked in policy and program design. All are powerful.
As a non-profit organization with a social purpose, our mission is to apply our expertise in behavioral science to design innovative solutions to some of the world’s toughest social problems. Our ultimate goal is to improve tens of millions of lives by ensuring that these solutions are scaled up and have the biggest impact possible.
We work on a wide range of problems across a number of policy domains, including consumer finance, economic mobility, higher education, criminal justice, health, and international development. We partner with foundations, government bodies, private companies and other non-profits, and engage in three pillars of work:
1) Educate leaders and policy-makers about how behavioral science can help to solve social problems, and run bespoke executive education programs to provide an introduction to the design of behaviorally informed policies, programs and products.
2) Assist institutions by designing low-cost and scalable interventions to reduce the behavioral bottlenecks that can hinder the effectiveness of their programs and products.
3) Invent fresh solutions based on behavioral insights that can be brought to scale.
Our approach to behavioral design
Behavioral science teaches us that the details matter, so we approach each new problem with an audit of the specific context. We look at the situation closely and try to identify common snags – things that can trip up the human mind. We talk to people: consumers, employees, service-users, and experts. We observe. We use administrative data sets. We do surveys.
Once we have gathered the data we need, we map the decision-making process in order to pinpoint the most pertinent behavioral problems. We use this diagnosis to help us design solutions that we believe will work for that particular context. Finally, because human behavior is so hard to predict, we test the effectiveness of our proposed solution by conducting rigorous experiments.
ideas42 was established in 2008 by Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard University, Antoinette Schoar of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Simeon Djankov, then of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank Group, Eldar Shafir of Princeton University, Jeffrey Kling of the Brookings Institution, and Michael Kremer of Harvard University.
The origin of our name lies in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a novel by Douglas Adams. In the book, Deep Thought—the most brilliant computer ever created—is asked about the meaning of life. Seven-and-a-half million years later, Deep Thought finally has a reply:
“The answer to the Great Question Of Life, the Universe, and Everything is…” The computer pauses.
The audience is perplexed. Seven-and-a-half-million years of work and the answer is 42? Deep Thought says it has checked its work carefully and 42 is certainly the answer.
The computer continues. “I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.”
At ideas42, we believe that all good work is predicated on asking the right questions.
At ideas42 we look at everything – including our own internal processes — through a behavioral lens. We approach our work with a spirit of generosity, but we retain a sense of playfulness that helps to drive our creativity. As individuals, we are tenacious and rigorous, and take shared responsibility for the organization’s success. Perhaps most importantly, we do good, striving every day to improve the lives of people all over the world.