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Ruth Schmidt Provides a New Framework for Behavioral Designers

November 10, 2021

How behavioral science can play an effective role in designing systems

Associate professor Ruth Schmidt writes in Behavioral Scientist about the challenge of using behavioral science in systems design, extending thinking about behavioral planning shared earlier this year in Strategic Design Research Journal:

To help behavioral designers more systematically introduce behavioral planning...we developed a framework. Its goal is to capture different factors that impact how interventions function within systems.
Behavioral designers need to “recognize changes over time, complex system dynamics, and oversimplified definitions of success that may impact the effectiveness of interventions,” Ruth and co-author Katelyn Stenger write. Their framework focuses on two dimensions of complexity, as depicted at right: adaptation and conditions.
They also provide helpful examples of how behavioral interventions can go wrong when situations aren’t considered more holistically:
  • behavioral interventions aimed at transitioning farmers in the Colorado River Basin to water-saving practices were tactically successful—more farmers adopted these practices—yet failed to decrease overall water usage
  • nudges encouraging individuals to make higher credit-card autopayments may inadvertently prompt people to reduce the frequency or amount of manual payments
  • recommendations to wear masks ignore Black men’s legitimate fears that donning handmade masks pits communal safety against personal safety, due to racial profiling and assumptions of criminality

Read more at Behavioral Scientist.