New York City Behavioral Design Team

Posted in Projects

Bringing behavioral insights to the largest city in the United States

At ideas42, we’ve joined the New York City Mayor’s Office of Operations to create the NYC Behavioral Design Team (BDT). Part of our Gov42 portfolio of government partnerships, the NYC BDT builds on proven interventions at the federal, state, and city levels to find new evidence-based cost-effective solutions to persistent social problems.

New York City is the home of 8.5 million people and more than 50 city agencies that provide essential public services – from traffic safety and tax assistance to pre-K programs and health clinics. In every context that a New York City agency interacts with the public, there is an opportunity to enhance outcomes and experiences at scale. Behavioral science offers insights on how to capitalize on these opportunities, often in a low-cost, low-burden way. For example, simply redesigning NYC’s standard summons form has the potential to reduce the number of arrest warrants issued for minor violations, which is good for both residents and the city. Check out an overview of some of our current projects with the City:

Office of Recovery and Resiliency — Increasing Participation in the City’s Flood Insurance Affordability Study

Often the first step in improving citizens’ outcomes is to better understand their needs. The NYC Office of Recovery and Resiliency (ORR) wanted to learn more about the affordability of flood insurance in high-risk areas in order to serve those residents better and make sure they’re protected in case of future disasters. ORR developed a survey to collect information, but despite substantial financial incentives, the response rate among residents was only 11%. To address this low rate, the BDT designed a “last chance” letter that used a soft deadline to convey urgency, icons and text differentiation in the letter’s layout to highlight actions and benefits, and messaging on the envelope to catch recipients’ attention and encourage them to open the letter. This behaviorally-informed letter increased the likelihood of survey response by 15.5 times and thus enabled the city to gain valuable insights on a vulnerable population. The City also learned key engagement strategies that it can apply to outreach efforts across agencies.

Office of Labor Relations — Increasing Flu Vaccine Up-take Among City Employees
To increase uptake of flu vaccines and maintain a healthy workforce during the 2016-17 flu season, the BDT worked with the Office of Labor Relations to experimentally evaluate the effects of sending a set of behaviorally-informed emails to 400,000+ city workers encouraging them to protect themselves and others from the flu. Final data on all administered vaccines are expected in early 2017, but initial counts show about a 25% increase in the number of vaccines that were administered at work-site locations.

Human Resources Administration — Increasing timely SNAP Recertification Rates
At their annual recertification, approximately half of SNAP clients fail to complete one of the required steps. Many of these clients come back within just a few months to reapply—creating a processing burden on the city, while often losing a month or more of SNAP benefits for themselves and their families. To help improve recertification rates and reduce “churn,” the Behavioral Design Team is redesigning three notifications used to inform clients about required next steps. A randomized controlled trial will be used to evaluate the impact of each of these behaviorally-informed notifications.

Department of Education — Increasing Up-take of Gifted & Talented Testing in Low-income districts
Students in low-income districts are less likely than their peers in higher income districts to take the Gifted and Talented (G&T) admissions test. As a result, fewer low-income students test into and attend G&T programs. Using learnings from behavioral science, the BDTredesigned emails and postcards to encourage preschool parents to sign their students up for the test. A randomized controlled trial on over 60,000 preschool parents is being used to evaluate the effects of these designs.

The NYC BDT is a resource for any New York City agency interested in applying behavioral insights to new and existing processes and program interventions. If you are a NYC agency interested in working with us, please contact us at

Support for the NYC BDT is provided in part by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Laura and John Arnold Foundation’s core objective is to address our nation’s most pressing and persistent challenges using evidence-based, multi-disciplinary approaches.