Federal News Radio has an interesting piece here about how the science of human behavior is being examined for ways to incent/influence innovation at federal agencies. The comment below is from Jitinder Kohli, director of Federal Government Performance at Deloitte.

“Science has told us a lot about how people make decisions, the way in which we’re wired and how we sort of decide which way to go,” Kohli told The Federal Drivewith Tom Temin and Emily Kopp on Aug. 5. “And what it’s saying is that agencies use these behavioral insights to find programs that are both cheaper and more effective.”

Deloitte developed six white papers that provide examples of how agencies could apply behavioral insights.

Interesting. Here’s an example:

One of Deloitte’s white papers pointed to the Department of Agriculture as one agency that could also benefit from behavioral insights to reduce childhood obesity. The report described how Google applied behavioral principles to create “smart lunchrooms”:

  • Moving water bottles to eye-level increased water consumption by 47 percent
  • Moving the water bottles also reduced soda consumption enough to decrease caloric intake from beverages 7 percent
  • Moving M&Ms from transparent to opaque containers led to a 9 percent drop in caloric intake from candy in one week.

USDA could apply similar behavior insights in establishing new guidelines for school lunchrooms and thereby increase the effectiveness of one of its health initiatives.

Makes sense. Parents do things like this all the time.

But here’s the tough nut to crack when it comes to policy decisions and human behavior: We live in a society where many people receive government benefits and are subsidized by the tax dollars paid by others. So how do we use behavioral insights to address the very real problem that some people simply want someone else to foot the bill for the costs of daily life? How do we use behavior insights to move away from the notion that getting something for “free” is a goal.

Certainly, a just and moral society bands together to help those who can’t help themselves. We do this through private charities, through neighbors helping neighbors, through churches, and yes, through government. We all share responsibility to help the vulnerable. But we have gone well beyond an appropriate government-provided safety net in this country. Working Americans are now subsidizing the middle class. And, as recent data shows, we have a serious problem of allowing more and more people to become dependent on, and subsidized by, others through disability benefits.