2017 Semifinalist
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
January 1, 2017

For decades, academics and policymakers have seen tremendous potential for intersections between behavioral science and policy. Any time the government engages with people — whether it’s by offering low-income students free or reduced-price lunches at school or by offering veterans employment benefits — there is an opportunity to improve that interaction using insights about human behavior. In 2014, a small group of five behavioral scientists inside the U.S. Federal Government worked together to build a team of behavioral scientists that could help realize these opportunities. But there were some major obstacles in the way of the work: the team didn’t have a high-level mandate inspire government agencies to partner with them on proof-of-concept pilots. They also didn’t have a budget to build a team, nor was there a budget to run pilots with government agencies. In short, this effort was going to require some serious coalition building and creativity. The plan was to develop project proposals that used behavioral science insights to address problems from Federal agency colleagues were already trying to solve. This way, they could align incentives and more successfully build an appetite for this work in agencies, in the face of many competing demands and priorities. One year later the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team briefed President Obama on its successful collaborations with over a dozen Federal agencies. On September 15, 2015, the President signed an executive order titled “Using Behavioral Science Insights to Better Serve the American People” that institutionalizes the Social and Behavioral Sciences Team and issued a directive to agencies to apply behavioral science to their programs. The General Services Administration (GSA) also created an entirely new office, the Office of Evaluation Sciences (OES), to recruit behavioral scientists into the government. To date, OES has recruited over 20 behavioral scientists to work on this effort.