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Behavioral Teams by Change Sectors

Main Findings

  • There appears to be an opportunity for groups across sectors to expand into the pursuit of judicial and legal change using behavioral science.

  • For-profit companies are most likely to be focused on increased purchasing and usage.

  • Even though there is a great body of behavioral science research in education, health, and judicial space, it seems groups pursing this type of change do not leverage their insights that often.


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Increase Purchases

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Increase Usage

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Our exploration started with the general sector classification variable. Looking at For-Profit firms, the most used change type was the increase in usage. This runs parallel with the pursuits of many firms who desire to maximize usage to in turn maximize profits. Pursuing utilization of a product or service is part of a free market but has become more of a concern with the rise of technology. Groups like the Center for Humane Technology have begun to raise the alarm of the use of Dark Patterns (or negative nudges) in technology which led to increased usage at the cost of other aspects of the user’s life. The least selected usage was judicial, which seems like an opportunity for the for-profit sector to move into.


Moving to non-profit firms, health was the most selected. This comes as a little surprise, with the explosion of health and wellbeing products and services over the past few years. Closely following health, education and energy were also frequently selected. Once again, judicial was the least selected, signaling another opportunity. Next looking at government entities, unsurprisingly the top choice was the pursuit of energy change techniques. Since the revolution that OPower brought, the government has been utilizing behavioral science in its pursuit of carbon-emission reductions. On the flip side, increasing purchasing was least reported, which agrees with intuition as purchasing behaviors are generally outside the realm of governments. One area of note is that the second most popular change technique for government was HR/Organizational changes. Lastly, academic groups selected health, energy and finance and education the most. This matches a scan of what the most prominent Applied Behavioral Scientists focus on. They also selected judicial.

Change Type.PNG

Method of Change

Unlike breakdowns where easily noticeable patterns emerge, depending on the type of change being pursued, different methods are generally used. Those who are driving usage of a product were the most likely to apply existing behavioral science lessons while with others this was one of the least selected. Those in the health and HR change types were most likely to develop new interventions to solve their problems. When it came to experimentation to determine the right method to drive change, finance selected this as their top method and increasing usage as their second. This came as a surprise as one would imagine this is incredibly important for health and education. HR listed experimentation as their lowest used method which is not surprising for those familiar with the field. Privacy and ethical concerns plague the practice preventing the collection of experimental data, let alone the random assignment of employees. With the rise in employee experience being a major concern of Fortune 500 companies to startups this is likely to begin to change. We may see that change in the data too as HR change types were selected the use of alternative methods of measuring behavioral impact as their top method. When it came to analyzing individual behavioral data, predictably those increasing purchasing and usage selected this the most. Those in the Health Change Type also selected analyzing data frequently, more than experimentation. Looking at the most quantitative method, the development of statistical or machine learning models, those in finance and energy were most likely to select this. Both change types, but especially finance, have significant amounts of data which lowers the barrier of entry for the development of these sorts of models. Lastly, those in healthcare reported their primary method of change is the advising of others. This was also the most reported method across the group.

Methods by Change Type.PNG


Struggles exhibited a somewhat similar pattern to methods of change. This suggests while there is some correlation that each change type may bring with it unique challenges. Starting with access to outcome data, this is something that education, energy, and finance all listed as their greatest challenge. This is likely a symptom of their access to significant input data but distance from their end user. Data on outcomes is also more challenging for these groups to generate as it is less defined as something like usage. Which is further reinforced by those who pursue increased usage reporting this as their lowest struggle. For those increasing purchasing and usage, getting approval was their biggest struggle. This is read as a skew due to most of these groups being in for-profit groups who are more likely to be risk adverse at trying new techniques, especially those involving data and behavioral change. The risk-aversion factor is also likely why judicial groups report this as their greatest struggle. HR and Health both reported sharing their findings as their greatest struggle. Both deal with overly sensitive data while it may be the culprit of this response. Shifting to the least common struggles, Health and Energy both reported having an impact as being the lowest. This is encouraging but unfortunate that the former has trouble then sharing those results! Judicial groups reported having little struggle finding preliminary research which causes one to question why their least common method of change is the application of Behavioral Science Lessons. Finance and HR both seem to be filled with ideas on how to create a change which again is unfortunate the latter cannot share! Lastly, those in education seem to not struggle with the measuring of impact.

Struggles by Change Type.PNG


As was discussed in the main review of responses, the most important goals of all behavioral science teams were Sharing Research with Stakeholders and Directly Changing Behavior. This same pattern was seen across all the change types with these being the most selected. As one might expect when exclusively looking at the change types of Increasing Purchasing and Usage, their next most important goals were the development of products and services, and marketing materials. This is likely a skew of all the for-profit firms who reported selected increasing usage as a change type but highlights that many groups see behavioral science as a driver of profit by generating more interest in products and services. Similarly, the changing types of Education, Energy, and Health all reported higher than the average importance of publishing externally. The one change type which was an outlier, likely due to the low sampling, was judicial. Those who selected this category reported that policy creation and external publication were incredibly important.

Importance by Change Type.PNG

This work was completed by ABSA Co-Founder and Exec Committee Member Connor Joyce. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions please click here to message him. 

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