Why Federal Agencies Want to Get on a First Name Basis With You

Mike Flippo/Shutterstock.com

A small team within the Office of Science and Technology Policy is tasked with using techniques in the social and behavioral sciences’ toolbox to make the federal government more efficient.

Imagine you receive two nearly identical emails from your health care provider asking for feedback. The only difference between the two notes? One addresses you by name, while the other simply begins with a generic “Greetings.”

Which one would you respond to?

Chances are, it's the one that highlights your individuality by addressing you by name, according to the Social and Behavioral Sciences Team. 

The small group of recently recruited scientists working out of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy just hit its one-year anniversary. The team is charged with using techniques in the social and behavioral sciences’ toolbox to make the federal government more efficient -- and perhaps even cheaper for taxpayers.

Thus far, SBST pilot programs have had success. The team has partnered with about a dozen federal agencies to make changes as straightforward as adding each recipient’s name to emails, and as complex as reformatting emails to spur readers into action.

The Office of Federal Student Aid, for example, wanted its borrowers to become better informed of their options for paying off loans, especially in terms of income-driven repayment. It teamed up with SBST to send about 3 million emails to those deemed “struggling student borrowers.”

All emails, save those in their control group, used clear and timely information to explain the eligibility requirements for income-driven repayment, along with its benefits and costs, according to OSTP. In a single month, the new emails resulted in about 6,000 more completed applications for the repayment option. 

“The team was created in response to the administration’s call to make government programs more effective and efficient,” said Maya Shankar, the team's senior adviser, in a White House blog post

Team Inspired by Similar UK Unit

SBST was inspired by a similar team in the U.K. called the Behavioral Insights Team. Frequently referred to as the “Nudge Unit,” BIT was established about five years ago, thanks in part to the popular book, “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness" by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. (Sunstein later served in President Barack Obama's administration as director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs). 

“It’s partly just about the sense of a human interaction,” said David Halpern, leader of the UK team, at the Behavioral Exchange Conference in Sydney last year.

An important focus for BIT has been to slash the unemployment rate, Halpern explained. The team noticed only 10 percent of individuals who signed up for job fairs actually attended them. But by personalizing would-be attendees' letters, the team saw a dramatic increase in participation.

“Almost every area of domestic policy is now influenced by behavioral insights,” Halpern said. “There’s really not a department we don’t work with.”

Obama Budget Expands Behavioral Team 

SBST, the U.S. team, has also begun to work with a wide array of agencies, including the Defense Department. A recent project there worked to make sure more than 100,000 Armed Forces members re-enrolled in their Roth Thrift Savings Plans. In addition to making email communication more personalized, they also tried to clearly outline the specific steps in the renewal process.

And it seems to have worked. After the first week of using the reformatted email, DOD saw a 22 percent spike in the number of re-enrollments. 

SBST will likely soon grow even further.

President Barack Obama’s 2016 budget supported an expansion of the team, highlighting how it's been able to partner with federal agencies to “test the impact of behaviorally informed interventions on program impact and efficiency using rapid, rigorous and low-cost randomized control trials.”

(Image via Mike Flippo/Shutterstock.com)

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.