Building Behavioral Science’s Intervention 万博皇家马德里 in Higher Education

If you’re a behavioral scientist, you’ve likely spent years designing and testing strategies to improve a program or service, with the aim of making a meaningful difference in people’s lives. If you’re fortunate, after rigorous evaluations you find your design effectively changed behavior and had a sizeable impact on important outcomes. Now comes the hard part: how do you support expansion and adoption of this strategy so that more people benefit from the innovation you’ve developed?

This is one of the greatest challenges faced by our field—how to make it easy for practitioners to adopt our innovations and effectively implement them?

This is one of the greatest challenges faced by our field—how to make it easy for practitioners to adopt our innovations and effectively implement them?

We’ve encountered this roadblock firsthand in our work in postsecondary education—Ben as an associate professor of education and public policy at the University of Virginia and Ethan as a managing director at applied behavioral science nonprofit ideas42. Between our two teams and our partners, we’ve designed new ways to increase FAFSA filing rates, reduce “summer melt,” and foster belonging on campus, demonstrating through randomized controlled trials that these designs can improve student outcomes.

Facilitating widespread, effective adoption of these strategies is another matter.

One barrier to adoption is low visibility: most educators and administrators haven’t heard of many of these evidence-based strategies. Those who do hear about them have limited time to invest in incorporating nudges into their school or organization’s practices. And even people who learn about an evidence-based strategy and dedicate the time to adopt it may lack the behavioral expertise to tailor the design for their context and student population.

Naturally, we applied a behavioral lens to this adoption problem. To make it easier for educators and administrators to use evidence-based strategies, we recently developed Nudges, Norms, and New Solutions, a practical toolkit with the most effective and promising behavioral innovations from leading researchers spanning the years from high school through college.

When less than 60 percent of students graduate from four-year colleges within six years…it isn’t enough to identify effective innovations…We have to do more to ensure proven solutions are applied in the real world.

These resources begin to address the visibility and expertise problems by providing simplified, actionable information about effective behavioral innovations and free support for adaptation and implementation. However, the issue of practitioners’ limited time and attention remains. Creating a new tool is only the first step toward our end goal of wide implementation of evidence-based solutions. If we can drive greater awareness and use of these resources, not only can more students get to and through college but we may also create a new model for scaling effective behavioral innovations that researchers working in other issue areas can leverage.

When less than 60 percent of students graduate from four-year colleges within six years—and other issue areas face similarly stark challenges—it isn’t enough to identify effective innovations. For our work to have a real impact, we have to do more to ensure proven solutions are applied in the real world.