Behavioral Science at the White House: SBST Report Launches & President Issues Executive Order

Sep 16, 2015 in Blog

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ideas42 Executive Director Josh Wright welcomes guests to the Behavioral Science in Policy Reception in D.C.

It’s been an historic week for the world of behavioral science: President Obama has issued an Executive Order encouraging federal agencies to apply behavioral insights in their programs, policies, and operations for the first time ever. Paving the way for this landmark declaration is the successful track record of the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team (SBST), which launched its inaugural report to detail the results of a wide portfolio of projects yesterday.

The SBST was created in response to the President’s call to make government programs more effective and efficient. The team has since met with great success, partnering with over a dozen federal agencies to launch a series of low-cost pilots building evidence on what works in government program design. The newly released report presents fascinating insights on how the U.S. Government can introduce simple, behaviorally-informed design changes to existing programs and official communications that reduce hassles for millions of Americans. It also illustrates how these initial designs can be tested to measure and determine their positive impact. Here’s a great summary of some of the top-line findings in the report:

“Due to SBST projects, more Servicemembers are saving for retirement, more students are going to college and better managing their student loans, more Veterans are taking advantage of education and career counseling benefits, more small farms are gaining access to credit, and more families are securing health insurance coverage. And improvements in government program integrity and efficiency are saving taxpayer dollars.” 

At ideas42, we are proud to have supported and advised the work of the SBST since its 2014 inception, including lending our own expert team members to serve as Fellows and Associates within the SBST, and training many federal employees in applying behavioral insights to policy programs.

To officially celebrate the SBST’s achievements in government innovation, we joined the Brookings Institution, as well as several additional illustrious nonprofit and academic organizations, to host a post-launch reception on behavioral science and policy. The evening reception brought together over 100 federal officials, policy practitioners, and behavioral experts to recognize the important work (and potential) of integrating behavioral insights into policymaking.

Reception Cohosts


David Wessel (Brookings Institution), Mary Ann Bates (J-PAL North America), Katy Milkman (University of Pennsylvania), Sim Sitkin (Duke University) and other notable figures joined our co-Executive Director, Josh Wright, to lead the charge in commending the Executive Order and congratulating the SBST. The speakers noted the progress that has been made in translating research into practical applications to better serve the American people.

We’re excited to be taking part in the newly formed, ongoing Behavioral Science and Policy Series. The Series will function as a working group chaired by the Behavioral Science and Policy Association (BSPA), comprising academic institutions and other likeminded, impact-driven organizations similar to ours committing to author behaviorally-informed policy recommendations to the Federal government on a regular basis. Not only will this group provide SBST access to the latest academic discoveries on human behavior and decision-making, but it will also enable our team at ideas42 to continue making meaningful contributions to the work of the SBST.

Check out the full SBST report here, and our own release marking this historic event in behavioral science here.