Every year, millions of people decide to pursue postsecondary education to improve their economic well-being. But far too many fail to apply, matriculate, persist, or graduate as planned. In fact, 41% of students at 4-year institutions and 71% at 2-year community colleges do not graduate despite their intention to earn a degree. These gaps are even larger for first-generation students and students of color, deepening historical inequality. Over the past decade, we’ve used behavioral science to research, design, and test solutions that have helped thousands of students achieve their postsecondary goals. Too often, seemingly small, mundane challenges — paperwork, information gaps, and hassle factors — act as barriers that force students off track. But using our unique behavioral design methodology, we are able to examine programs from the student perspective in order to spot and remove these small yet powerful behavioral barriers. Together with colleges, universities, college success non-profits, and foundations, ideas42 helps more students effectively complete postsecondary education programs and successfully accomplish their goals.
Health systems are human systems. At ideas42, we use behavioral science to study the unexpected and often curious quirks of human behavior. When we apply these breakthroughs and insights to global health programs, we can amplify impact and advance positive change. By better understanding how and why people make the choices they do, we can better help them see all the possibilities, chart their preferred path, reach personal goals, and achieve their fullest potential. Our goal is to transform global health practice to improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people worldwide with a focus on women and children under 5 years old in low- and middle-income countries.
Active civic participation is the bedrock of a functioning democracy. However, in the United States, engagement in civic life is low and does not reflect the diverse makeup of the country as a whole. This leads to distorted policies and weakened accountability structures, and therefore, a government that fails to equitably serve all the people it represents. On top of structural barriers that prevent many people from getting involved, there are also less obvious behavioral factors at play, such as identity, social norms, choice architecture, and other principles of human decision-making. At ideas42, we’re using our expertise in behavioral science to design and apply innovations that make voting easier and more deeply meaningful for everyone. By removing the most pernicious barriers to participation, we can create a vibrant American democracy that equitably empowers and safeguards all eligible voters, build a broad electorate that mirrors the diversity of the country as a whole, and bring about a government that is accountable at every level to the true will of the people.
We envision a world where financial products, services, and programs are behaviorally-informed, and designed to meet the needs of people of all socio-economic statuses, ages, races, and genders so that they can have a financially secure present and a self-determined future. We do this work by partnering with a wide variety of organizations, including credit unions, banks, public agencies, governments, fintech startups, and nonprofits. Instead of assuming that increased knowledge or motivation are the sole keys to better outcomes, we seek to understand the context where decisions are made and remove barriers within the channels and systems through which people navigate their financial lives. Our ultimate goal – a financial system that works for everyone.
The Economic Justice team at ideas42 envisions a U.S. where a shared, behaviorally informed narrative of poverty removes inequities that prevent all people from leading fulfilled lives of their own definition. To achieve that vision, we work closely with the communities we serve to design and advance solutions that make it easier for people facing economic hardship to exercise their power for individual, community, and systems change. We also believe that economic justice and racial justice are deeply entwined, and so we bring a racial justice lens into all of the work that we do. Our principles of equity include fixing contexts, not people; listening to and acting on lived experiences; and always promoting dignity, autonomy, and justice in our designs. Using a two-generational lens, we work with a diverse group of partners. We are also building new work focused on narrative change, as we seek to shift the harmful and false poverty narratives that lead to ineffective, and at times harmful, policies and practices.
In the legal system, the smallest of mistakes—such as accidentally missing court or inability to pay a fine—can have outsized impacts on people’s freedom, livelihoods, and well-being. This is especially true for those most experiencing poverty, systemic racism, and/or violence. Our Safety & Justice team uses rigorous research and inventive behavioral design to improve outcomes (and prevent negative outcomes) in the legal system. We work directly with courts, police, probation and parole, district attorneys and public defenders, community organizations, and mayors’ offices to bring about positive change. This is done in partnership with communities, civil rights groups, action networks, and other researchers. Reforms are desperately needed, and their success ultimately depends on people changing prevailing, often deep-seated patterns of behavior. By enabling better decisions, we aim to reduce the harms of our current system in the U.S. while helping to build a more fair, dignified, and equitable one.
Maximizing the impact of existing and new global development and humanitarian efforts using insights from behavioral science can help improve life for millions in contexts of extreme poverty or instability around the world. Living in such contexts forces people to make tough trade-offs every day, in turn making it difficult to improve their well-being and long-term economic prospects. This can include: Spending cash transfer funds on immediate needs rather than making productive livelihood investments Sending children to work instead of school Spending time on income-generating work rather than vocational training programs Meeting immediate consumption needs at the expense of protection, health, or other long-term priorities Using behavioral insights to redesign the delivery of global anti-poverty and humanitarian programs will give millions the slack needed to minimize such trade-offs, maximizing program effectiveness and providing participants with tools to improve their economic well-being as they see fit.
We believe that governmental tools, workplaces, and systems are not designed to maximize the efforts of hard-working public servants, and this is standing in the way of good governance. Despite public attention and material resources, officials often struggle to fulfill their mandates, missing out on the potential to catalyze development. Like all humans, when faced with competing priorities and scarce time and resources, public officials tend to “tunnel,” focusing only on the most urgent responsibilities. Small changes to often overlooked aspects of the context in which government workers and public officials operate can drastically improve government performance. By leveraging a deep understanding of human behavior, our governance team supports the work of public servants in low- and middle-income countries through light-touch, low-cost interventions aimed at optimizing limited public resources, and more importantly, at improving the lives of the people governments serve.
We’re focused on the most critical challenges of the foreseeable future: reducing carbon emissions and helping people adapt equitably to the inevitable effects of climate change. The decisions that are made every day by people across the world — whether in organizations, institutions, or at home — have ongoing impacts on climate change. Climate change is a long-term, vague threat that requires collective action to solve. Unfortunately, this plays to our behavioral biases, which favor short-term benefits and specific solutions, in the worst way possible. Behavioral science has a critical role to play in understanding and addressing this overall problem. We look for opportunities to deploy behavioral science to prompt action that meaningfully reduces carbon emissions, or helps individuals and communities adapt to climate impacts. By 2030, our bold goal is to avert 550 million metric tons CO2E annually — the equivalent of ~10% of projected 2020 US emissions.
Non-profit organizations help tackle the hardest problems facing society, improving the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world. Yet for many of these organizations, their ability to make this social change depends on an ever-changing resource: philanthropic giving. Fortunately, generosity is a powerful force for good. In 2021, donors in the United States gave $484.85 billion. The majority of this giving, 67%, came from individual givers—more than all other sources combined. However, for people who want to donate, making their dollars count is less easy than we’d like. Serious problems exist that philanthropic resources could solve, but not enough resources go where they are most needed. We have three goals: first, to help more people give, and give effectively, so their generosity translates to the social impact they envision. Second, to make it easier for non-profit leaders, regardless of their background, to get funding so they can spend their time on what they’re best at: pursuing social good. And third, to strengthen and build critical infrastructure across the giving ecosystem.
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