Project Findings: Low Cost, Low Key Changes can Improve Outcomes

Work in behavioral science suggests that small changes can move people to act on personal goals. To test this approach in the realm of human services, MRDC along with sponsoring federal agencies, launched the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self Sufficiency (BIAS) program with a goal of improving both the efficiency and outcomes of programming. Small changes or “nudges” to a program that facilitate the experience for clients, for example, the simplification of an application process, personalization of correspondence, or prominently highlighting a deadline, have an influence on decisions made by current or potential program participants. These adjustments are not major design changes, rather they are low cost, easily implemented ways to change the complexities many lower income families face .

Randomized trials at participating state and local human service agencies introduced specific behavioral interventions based on a period of review and identification of “bottlenecks.” Results indicate that these small changes had a statistically significant impact on outcomes in childcare and work support (including increased attendance at meetings or appointments) and child support (including increased rate of payment).

If small changes make a difference, why are larger-scale programmatic changes (that could result in increased benefits) so difficult to negotiate and implement? Perhaps examining program design through the lens of behavioral economics, where both staff and participant benefit from improved outcomes, is the path toward innovation in the provision of human services. The full report on the BIAS project and additional information on the MRDC’s work with behavioral interventions is available on their website.


Report citation: Richburg-Hayes, Lashawn, Caitlin Anzelone, and Nadine Dechausay with Patrick Landers (2017). Nudging Change in Human Services: Final Report of the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) Project. OPRE Report 2017-23. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Preschoolers, Parental Expectations and Obesity Trends

Understanding the trend in obesity among youth may require more consideration than blaming fast food, “lazy” parents and video games. It may require a more honest examination of the nature of the trade-offs that schools, child care centers and parents  have to make to balance the issues of safety, learning and physical activity.  We know that students are not getting adequate exercise during their physical education hours and that recess itself is a topic of debate, now a study indicates that preschoolers in daycare settings are not getting adequate amounts of physical playtime –  for some surprising reasons.

The article, Societal Values and Policies May Curtail Preschool Children’s Physical Activity in Child Care Centers published in the February journal of Pediatrics found that young children in daycare did not typically get recommended levels of physical activity during their time at the center because of,

  • a fear of child injury – including related parental complaints,  parental pressure to reduce running and climbing play opportunities and concerns with licensing codes;
  • a priority on classroom learning over non-cognitive playtime, due in part to the perceived pressure of early education standards; and
  • a lack of financial resources for playground equipment or adequate space for active play.

The paper, available free online for download, includes a sample of responses from the study focus groups that paint a clearer picture as to some major, but hidden, reasons why the kids are sitting more and running less.




Societal Values and Policies May Curtail Preschool Children’s Physical Activity
in Child Care Centers. Kristen A. Copeland, Susan N. Sherman, Cassandra A. Kendeigh, Heidi J. Kalkwarf and Brian E. Saelens Pediatrics; originally published online January 4, 2012; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2011-2102