Benefits of Incorporating Behavioral Science and HCD

5 Reasons Why Social Programs Should Use Behavioral Science and Human-Centered Design

Social service programs are often familiar with the “buzz words” of behavioral science and human-centered design, but they do not have the context about what these disciplines are and how they can concretely support their efforts. Both behavioral science, which studies how people process information and make decisions, and human-centered design, which puts people at the center of the design process, can help program operators gain a better understanding of how the perceptions and experiences of program participants influence how they react to program processes and policies. What follows are five reasons why social programs should use behavioral science and human-centered design.

Number 1Behavioral Science and Human-Centered Design Focus on Incorporating the User, Or Participant, Perspective into Solution Design

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A key tenet of both behavioral science and human-centered design is to focus on the end user, or participant, and their needs. Through early and regular engagement of participants throughout the problem-solving process, behavioral science and human-centered design help ensure that any solution design or intervention reflects participant interests. Empathy-building exercises, journey mapping, and user feedback collection on existing or new processes are just a few examples of ways to incorporate the participant perspective. Behavioral science and human-centered design can help social programs design services and processes that effectively meet the needs of their primary stakeholders.

Number 2Behavioral Science Helps Us Understand How People Might Respond When Their Time, Attention, or Resources Are Limited

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Research in behavioral science observes patterns of behavior, enabling program operators to make more accurate predictions about how people might behave under circumstances in which their time, attention, or resources are limited. For program designers, this information is critical for creating effective programs that reliably produce results for participants who experience these challenges.

Number 3Behavioral Science Helps Design Communications and Environments to Help People Make Decisions

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Behavioral science research tells us that the way that both communications and the program environment are designed can influence how customers make decisions. Using behavioral techniques like implementation prompts (listing of steps needed to complete a task), personalization (use of individualized information to convey significance and relevance) in communication design can encourage program participants to take action. Similarly, creating an environment that elicits positive moods—for instance through warm and friendly staff or comfortable furniture and plants in a reception area—may have beneficial impact on participant behavior.

Number 4Human-Centered Design Facilitates Collaborative Innovation, Which Can Help Programs Adapt to Rapidly Changing Environments and Expectations

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Human-centered design requires a variety of people with different perspectives and experiences—for instance customers, managerial staff, line staff, and volunteers—to work together to develop new and creative solutions. The approach encourages collaboration among various stakeholders and innovation through methods like customer journey mapping, group and individual interviewing, and rapid prototyping. In a rapidly changing world, the focus that human-centered design places on understanding the perspectives of stakeholders can help programs respond adroitly to their evolving needs.

Number 5Behavioral Science Applies Research-Backed, Evidence-Based Solutions to Common Challenges Experienced by Programs

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Behavioral science research on decision making—including tests of interventions in social services settings—offers useful guidance for how social programs might tackle commonly faced challenges. An understanding of evidence-based behavioral science practices can help social programs use the most effective strategies to reduce or remove barriers causing such challenges as low attendance rates at gateway appointments; low completion rates for program applications; low attendance, participation, or graduation rates at program workshops; and low or late completion of legally required actions.