Last year, with support from W.T. Grant Foundation, The New York Community Trust, and the Booth Ferris Foundation, we launched the NYC Behavioral Design Center (BDC) to bring behavioral science insights and design strategies to New York non-profit organizations with a focus on strengthening service delivery and civic engagement.
By offering support through multiple channels including in-depth workshops, customized project assistance, and quick-touch office hour consultations, we aim to reduce the barriers (and hassles) to tapping the power of behavioral science to improve individual lives and strengthen communities. We’re excited to report that our work in the BDC’s first months has yielded real benefits for participating organizations.
Learning with Us
To date, the BDC has held 15 free workshops for managers and staff of youth development, human service, and civic engagement programs to learn actionable ways to incorporate behavioral insights into their work. Run in partnership with United Neighborhood Houses, Partnership for After-School Education, Human Services Council, and anti-poverty policy and advocacy organization FPWA, workshop topics ranged from unpacking how living in poverty affects decision-making to applying a behavioral lens to programs’ communications and procedures. Crucially, we’ve received encouraging feedback from workshop participants about how they are now leveraging the behavioral insights they gained from the BDC to:
- Improve their website, email, print, and in-person communications with clients, staff, and community audiences
- “In the Behavioral Design workshop, I created a letter to mail to individuals we wanted to reach. The result had fewer words, clear bullet points about requirements and action steps. It worked! We attracted 12 participants and have already placed them in their internship sites. So exciting!”
- “[I’m] creating an alumni advisory council to review our class materials, curriculum, and graduate programming for my workforce development training institute.”
- Streamline the processes required for people to enroll in the programs they offer
- “We actually made our office more convenient. We have streamlined our process for entry to our program.”
- “We are trying to get kids to save and get banked. Since the last workshop we have change[d] how to do it. We invited the bank to open the bank account on site and then help the youth set up direct deposit.”
- Inform development of more effective “get out the vote” campaigns in their areas
- “We were inspired by the use of the checked boxes to create a sense of progress. For [previous voters], we sent postcards with checked boxes for 2016 and an open one for 2018 & 2020 [saying]: “We’d love to see you participate in this election.”
This month the BDC is joining forces with our own Behavioral Design Team, which assists NYC government agencies, to provide a day-long training for staff of the City’s Department of Homeless Services and one of its non-profit homeless shelter providers. The focus is on optimizing the new Client Responsibility Process to facilitate client acceptance of suitable housing placements.
Partnering on Projects
The BDC also works directly with organizations to design solutions to problems they encounter in their ongoing programs. Over the past nine months, we’ve worked with five non-profits to identify behavioral barriers within their programs and design solutions to facilitate better participant engagement, persistence, and follow-through.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Queens Community House—We are redesigning 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.
This spring we began working with three new partners:
- Participatory Budgeting Project—We’re working 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.
- LIFT-NY—We will focus on identifying and addressing the behavioral barriers that keep some potential members from accessing LIFT’s supports and services. LIFT provides personalized life skills 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.
- DOROT— Through its volunteer visiting programs, DOROT promotes inter-generational connections and combats social isolation among older adults. We’ll be helping them design an intervention to encourage volunteers to expand their involvement.
Talking with Us
To supplement our workshops and more in-depth project assistance, the BDC also helps spread the use of behavioral insights by offering free weekly office hours consultations to NYC non-profits interested in quick one-on-one, applied behavioral science advice.
So far, non-profits have requested assistance with client communications and program design implementation that has behavioral components, such as how to improve a financial literacy web portal, increase impact of a flyer about organizational safety procedures, and increase timely payments from residents of low-income housing co-ops.
This is just the beginning for the New York Behavioral Design Center. As our approach to making behavioral insights a valuable tool for the City’s problem-solvers generates more positive impacts, we’ll be taking on more partnerships and expanding the reach of our educational and consultation offerings. Stay tuned to hear about upcoming workshops and results from our first project partnerships.