Over the past decade, forward-thinking government agencies have been incorporating insights from behavioral economics and psychology to improve public policies and services as well as save money. In 2010, the United Kingdom established a Behavioral Insights Team (BIT), unofficially known as the “Nudge Unit,” to develop, test, learn from, and adapt communications to citizens about paying taxes, reducing medical prescription errors, increasing organ donations, and giving a day’s salary to charity—with often fascinating and positive results. BIT later launched in North America, running in just one year, 25 behavioral economics-informed randomized control trials in the United States and Canada to improve government effectiveness and efficiency.
Behavioral economics approaches to public-sector challenges are growing because they recognize people make irrational decisions that hurt their circumstances and waste money. The job of the behavioral economist is thus to understand widely occurring biases, heuristics, and fallacies—and then try to influence behavior in order to make people’s lives longer, healthier, and better. The County of Los Angeles Child Support Services Department (CSSD) has been part of this effort—launching its own experiments and learning from the lessons of the behavioral insights grant program of the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement. One effort in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, for example, found that sending text message reminders to parents without income withholding increased their likelihood of payment by 2.5 percentage points compared with sending no reminder at all.
With this context in mind, CSSD will partner with FUSE Corps to host an executive-level fellow for one year to advance a behavioral economics approach to its child support compliance program, focusing on revising communications and staff processes to align them with behavioral economics principles. This approach will allow CSSD to better serve its customers: fathers, mothers, and their children. CSSD is the largest child support service department in California, handling annually over a quarter million of the state’s custodial cases. The fellow will have the unique opportunity to advance behavioral economics approaches to child services in the nation’s most populous and economically complex county.
Project Summary & Potential Deliverables
The following provides a general overview of the proposed fellowship project. This project summary and the potential deliverables that follow will be collaboratively revisited by the host agency, the Fellow, and FUSE staff during the first few months of the project, after which a revised scope of work will be developed and agreed upon by the Fellow and the host agency.
Starting in September 2018, it is proposed that the FUSE Fellow will start developing a model for incorporating and sustaining a behavioral economics approach to child support compliance communications and initiatives for CSSD staff. This will involve: identifying the child support service areas that would most benefit from behavioral economics approaches; evaluating customer views of CSSD orders and interactions; educating and coaching staff on the principles, benefits, and practices of behavioral economics approaches; and developing processes for the iterative improvement of these approaches through proven measurement and evaluation methods. Building upon this work, the fellow will work with CSSD staff to write, test, revise, and disseminate all customer-related communications—from snail-mailed letters, phone scripts, and flyers to emailed correspondence, SMS texts, and online videos. Particular attention will be paid to the vast volume of communications that come from CSSD, which employs over 1,400 people, works on 250,000 child support cases daily, and collects roughly $500 million in support every year.
Success in this project will be evaluated in terms of the fellow’s ability to formulate a behavioral economics model for CSSD’s work that markets and improves child support compliance and enhances customers’ experience with the department. The model should be adaptable to future child support services programming, and enable both top-down and bottom-up systems for customer compliance and communication. The model’s success will require the fellow to make quick assessments of CSSD internal and external communications, understand CSSD customers’ challenges and needs, gauge staff familiarity with behavioral economics principles and best practices, collaborate and coordinate with CSSD staff, and measure, evaluate, and iterate upon the model in a short time frame.
The fellow should have experience applying behavioral economics approaches in the private, non-profit or public sector, facility working collaboratively at the executive level, and the ability to build consensus in large and complex teams. The fellow will preferably have familiarity in marketing and communications, measurement and evaluation, social services, and/or public-sector law.
- Conduct research and develop recommendations – Review national, state, and county information on custodial parent demography and compliance with child support orders as well as best practices among successful child support service departments. Create inventories of departmental communications with customers, segmenting them by delivery type, demography, type of case and/or order, collections data, and cost effectiveness, to identify departmental, compliance, and customer behavior patterns for initial testing of behavioral economics-driven communications.
- Engage staff and stakeholders – Meet with representatives of senior, mid-, and entry-level staff, to prioritize behavioral economics opportunities and test and iterate customer service approaches. Pay attention to requirements for mindset and systems change and establish teams that can catalyze the model for customer segments. Engage external stakeholders including social service providers and payers, ensuring that communications recommendations align with their use cases and preferences.
- Test and iterate behavioral economics-driven communications – Revise, test, and iterate segmented internal and external communications, to develop behavioral economics model. Ensure behavioral economics concepts are understood, so they can be embedded in customer service paths.
- Implement behavioral economics model: Implement behavioral economics model using tested and revised communications delivered by CSSD staff resulting in wider use of data-driven decision making in the department. Facilitate full documentation of the model and develop effective measurement and staff training processes for future sustainability and improvement of model. Create and implement a plan to communicate the results of this project to help enact further adoption and culture shift within the organization.
- Steven Golightly, Director, LA County Child Support Services Department
- Sara Gaeta-Anguiano, Chief Analytics Officer, LA County Child Support Services Department
- At least 15 years of professional experience in a social service, financial, or business management field. Experience in behavioral economics approaches, marketing and communications, measurement and evaluation, social service delivery, and public sector law a plus.
- Excellent stakeholder engagement skills and the ability to use facilitative leadership techniques to coordinate stakeholder activities.
- Superior critical thinking and analytical skills, and ability to synthesize complex information into clear and concise recommendations.
- Exceptional written and verbal communication skills with an ease in public presentations.
- Ability to relate to a wide variety of diverse audiences with strong emotional intelligence and empathy.
- Big picture thinker who can identify opportunities for strategic and empathetic decision making and can introduce a mindset of organizational change.
- Self-motivated, goal-oriented, entrepreneurial leader who can also be an independent worker.
- Persistent in obtaining information and creatively resourceful in identifying solutions to complex problems.
- Flexibility, adaptability, persistence, humility, inclusivity, and sensitivity to cultural and economic differences.
- Understands the need for solutions to support all people in a community regardless of age, disability status, justice-involvement, homeless status, race, religion, gender, immigration status, or ethnicity.
Click the link below to upload a resume and complete the online application questions in lieu of a cover letter. The application process will allow you to indicate interest in more than one fellowship opportunity. You only need to submit one application. Interested candidates are encouraged to apply as soon as possible, as selections will be made on a rolling basis and specific opportunities may close quickly.
A FUSE Fellowship is a 12-month engagement requiring fellows be primarily committed to their partnership with the government agency throughout the year to ensure the success of their project. Fellows are retained as independent contractors of FUSE Corps and are paid an annual stipend of $90,000 through monthly installments. This commitment begins on September 24, 2018 and ends September 20th, 2019.
The FUSE Fellowship is an equal opportunity program with a core value of incorporating diverse perspectives. We strongly encourage candidates from all backgrounds to apply.