By Steve M. Newell, OSTP Assistant Director for Innovation and Equity

Kei Koizumi, OSTP Principal Deputy Director for Science, Society, and Policy

President Biden challenged the country’s science and technology ecosystem to guarantee that the fruits of science and technology are fully shared across America and among all Americans. On Day One of his Administration, President Biden issued an Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government to advance equal opportunity for everyone. And in his first week, President Biden issued a memo to champion evidence-based policy decisions guided by the best available science and data. Delivering effective policies and programs that benefit everyone in America means leveraging every tool at our disposal.

Human behavior is a key component of every major national and global challenge. Social and behavioral science examines if, when, and how people’s actions and interactions influence decisions and outcomes. Understanding human behavior through social and behavioral science is vitally important for creating federal policies and programs that open opportunities for everyone.

Today, the Biden-Harris Administration shares the Blueprint for the Use of Social and Behavioral Science to Advance Evidence-Based Policymaking. This blueprint recommends actions for agencies across the federal government to effectively leverage social and behavioral science in improving policymaking to deliver better outcomes and opportunities for people all across America. These recommendations include specific actions for agencies, such as considering social and behavioral insights early in policy or program development. The blueprint also lays out broader opportunities for agencies, such as ensuring agencies have a sufficient number of staff with social and behavioral science expertise.  

The blueprint includes nearly a hundred examples of how social and behavioral science is already used to make real progress on our highest priorities, including promoting safe, equitable, and engaged communities; protecting the environment and promoting climate innovation; advancing economic prosperity and the future of the workforce; enhancing the health outcomes of all Americans; rebuilding our infrastructure and building for tomorrow; and promoting national defense and international security. Social and behavioral science informs the conceptualization, development, implementation, dissemination, and evaluation of interventions, programs, and policies. Policymakers and social scientists can examine data about how government services reach people or measure the effectiveness of a program in assisting a particular community. Using this information, we can understand why programs sometimes fall short in delivering their intended benefits or why other programs are highly successful in delivering benefits. These approaches also help us design better policies and scale proven successful interventions to benefit the entire country.

For example, Head Start began in 1965 as a demonstration project, informed by the intersection of health and psychological science, aimed at addressing children’s emotional, social, health, nutritional, and educational needs. It has now grown to a national program that serves hundreds of thousands of children and families in communities across the country. In the last 60 years, the initiative grew in scope and effectiveness by leveraging social and behavioral science approaches such as descriptive surveys, case studies, and evaluations. These approaches improved program design and service delivery by identifying the parts of early childhood education that best support child and family well-being. Social and behavioral sciences revealed the most effective strategies for improving enrollment and retention for eligible families. The Head Start program represents the cycle of social and behavioral science-informed policy in the blueprint. That cycle begins with the identification of a challenge focused on human behavior and continues with analysis and revisions to the program over time.

Social and behavioral science gives us the knowledge and tools we need to support and serve communities across the country.  Our national challenges are complex and pressing, which is why we must leverage available insights and approaches that can help us more effectively design, implement, and evaluate policies and programs. By continuing to integrate these insights into federal efforts, we can help ensure that all Americans have longer, healthier, more prosperous lives.


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