Non-profit organizations support New Yorkers in countless ways—providing essential health and human services, education and youth development opportunities, and resources to combat poverty and strengthen communities, among others. Too often, though, valuable services are underutilized, or clients and community members fail to complete the steps needed to achieve desired results. This can be puzzling to staff, who work hard to help as many people as possible.
We know there is often a gap between people’s intentions and actions—perhaps they intend to use a non-profit’s program or service but don’t follow through, don’t realize they are eligible for certain benefits, or have misconceptions about what’s possible or expected in a particular context. Applying a behavioral lens can help agencies address these issues, and in doing so make good programs even more effective—enabling them to help more people.
That’s why we created the NYC Behavioral Design Center with support from The New York Community Trust and the Booth Ferris Foundation. Through educational workshops, technical assistance, and cooperative design projects, the Center helps non-profits based in New York City identify and ameliorate behavioral barriers that emerge in service delivery, with a particular focus on alleviating poverty and enhancing civic engagement. Center staff guides practitioners and program managers in applying insights and techniques from behavioral science to increase the utilization of their services and improve outcomes for the people they serve.
Our recent and current project partnerships include:
- Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City—We will explore ways to mitigate behavioral barriers that discourage volunteer applicants from following through to become Big Brothers,
- Community Food Advocates—The project will focus on increasing student participation in the school lunch program at a multi-high school campus in Brooklyn.
- Human Services Council— We will examine factors limiting the number of human service organizations enrolled in HSC’s disaster preparedness alert system, and suggest strategies to expand participation.
- Per Scholas —This project will focus on identifying and addressing behavioral barriers discouraging 17-24 year olds from applying to and enrolling in Per Scholas’s free technology training programs.
- Accion East—We focused on addressing behavioral barriers limiting the number of loan applications Accion receives from family childcare providers in NYC. We designed sample outreach postcards and suggested other ways to increase applications and referrals.
- Arab American Family Support Center —We helped identify barriers to effective data collection at AAFSC, and prepared an intake training guide and referral template to address these barriers and improve intake and data practices.
- Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation —Based on our analysis of behavioral barriers that may prevent tenants in affordable and mixed income housing from participating in an on- time rent payment credit-building initiative and other asset-building programs, we developed outreach materials and other strategies to increase engagement.
- Sheltering Arms —We identified factors impeding Preventive Service referrals to the agency’s Health Home Care Management program, and recommended strategies to encourage referrals and facilitate the referral process.
- Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation (NMIC)—We prepared a series of communications from NMIC to its education and training program participants, and additional program redesign recommendations, to increase client outcome reporting and utilization of NMIC’s follow-up services. View project brief.
- NYC Kids RISE—We created a revised design for their savings program’s online interface and process to improve the user experience for families participating in the NYC Kids RISE Save for College Program. View project brief.
- CUNY Early Childhood Professional Development Institute (PDI)—We revised introductory correspondence with participants in PDI’s training and test preparation program, which provides training and support to early childhood teachers seeking Pre-K certification. We also outlined points and features to include in other communications and promotional material to enhance program recruitment and retention. View project brief.
- Room to Grow—We designed a flyer for the opening of their new Bronx location and offered recommendations on how to communicate with referring agencies to increase referrals and applications to the program. They saw increases of 26%-85% in their monthly referral statistics for August— December 2019 compared to the same time period the year before. View project brief.
- Queens Community House—We redesigned a weekly progress report email and advisory session worksheet for students at a transfer high school, and offering other suggestions leveraging behaviorally informed strategies to improve graduation rates. Since implementing these changes, more students have stayed after school to finish their work and reached out proactively to teachers for help. As a result, students are doing better in classes and, critically, passing state Regents exams at higher rates. View project brief.
- Participatory Budgeting Project—We worked to identify ways to address behavioral barriers that contribute to drop-off in engagement among volunteer Participatory Budgeting Delegates. This work is expected to inform recommendations regarding citywide implementation of Participatory Budgeting, as well as enhancing delegate involvement in individual council districts. View project brief.
- LIFT-NY—We focused on identifying and addressing the behavioral barriers that keep some potential members from accessing LIFT’s supports and services. LIFT provides personalized coaching to help parents of young children achieve their long-term financial, educational, and/or career goals, ensuring a brighter future for their family as a whole. View project brief.
- DOROT— Through its volunteer visiting programs, DOROT promotes intergenerational connections and combats social isolation among older adults. We helped them design an intervention to encourage volunteers to expand their involvement. Before implementing the BDC’s recommendations, volunteers were fulfilling 40% of the Response Team volunteer opportunities. Following initial implementation, in February 2020 volunteers were fulfilling 55%. View project brief.
Join us for our upcoming virtual workshop, Behavioral Design for Scarcity, on June 24 from 10AM to 12PM. Register here.
We’re accepting more requests for assistance from non-profits interested in applying behavioral insights to existing or new programs: you can find more information here.
The Behavioral Design Center also offers weekly office hours to New York City non-profits interested in getting 1:1 applied behavioral science advice. Sign up for an office hour here.
We’re eager to work with organizations to apply a behavioral lens to program and service design. Through the Behavioral Design Center, we hope to spread these behavioral insights farther and help more New Yorkers benefit from beneficial programs.
Interested in learning more about the NYC Behavioral Design Center? Sign up for our listserv to stay informed about upcoming workshops and other initiatives, or reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet at @ideas42 to join the conversation.