Using behavioral insights to design smarter school lunchrooms: An interview with David Just, Co-Director, Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs – Episode #107

 How can schools use low-cost solutions to help children make healthier food choices? David Just (@DavidJust1) is an expert on that topic. An economist by training, he is a professor at Cornell University and co-director, with Brian Wansink, of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (BEN Center). His research has included dozens of field and lab experiments that identify the subtle factors in the environment that can lead both children and adults to make the healthier food choices.

Further resources: For an interactive summary of “nudges” that can be used to create smarter lunchrooms, see this op-chart in the New York Times, co-created by David Just. You can also check out the Smarter Lunchrooms Self-Assessment created by the BEN Center.

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How Mexico took on the soda industry and won, passing a soda tax: An interview with Tina Rosenberg, New York Times and Solutions Journalism Network – Episode #106

tina_rosenbergMexico consumes a lot of soda and its soda industry (particularly Coca-Cola) is very powerful. Even so, in 2013, Mexico’s congress was able to successfully pass a nationwide one-peso-per-litre (about 10%) tax on sugary drinks, over the opposition of the soda industry. How did it happen?

To gain insights, we’re joined by Tina Rosenberg (@tirosenberg), a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. Her recent article in The Guardian is titled, “How one of the most obese countries on earth took on the soda giants.” She is the author of the “Fixes” column in the New York Times and also a co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network.

As Tina Rosenberg explains, there were several factors that helped pass the soda tax. One was a smart media campaign by the Nutritional Health Alliance in Mexico to raise awareness about the impact of soda. As example ad, at right, is titled “12 spoonfuls.” It asks: “Would you give them 12 teaspoons of sugar? Then why give them soda?”


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Calling on states to close their youth prisons: An interview with Patrick McCarthy, President, Annie E. Casey Foundation – Episode #105

 The Annie E. Casey Foundation, through its juvenile justice initiative, has documented widespread maltreatment of youth in state-funded juvenile corrections facilities, including high rates of sexual victimization and the heavy-handed use of disciplinary isolation. The results include high levels of recidivism and annual costs that often exceed $100,000 per young person. The findings have led the foundation’s president, Patrick McCarthy, to call on states to close their youth prisons and use more evidence-based approaches that would be more effective, humane and cost efficient. He has also pledged the Foundation’s support to any state willing to close its youth prisons.

To learn more, we’re joined by Patrick McCarthy, who has led the Casey Foundation since 2010 and has been at the foundation since 1994. Prior to that he held a range of positions focused on youth and families, including division director within Delaware’s human services agency.

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Doubling community college graduation rates through CUNY’s ASAP program: An interview with Donna Linderman, Dean for Student Success Initiatives, City University of New York – Episode #104

 Increasing the graduation rates at community colleges is an important national challenge. Nationally, less than 40 percent of community college students attain a degree or certificate — and students who come to campus underprepared for college-level work (those needing developmental or remedial classes) have graduation rates below 30 percent.

The City University of New York (CUNY) launched the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) in 2007 with the goal of doubling the graduation rates of community college students as well as encouraging timely graduation within three years. A rigorous, random assignment evaluation by MDRC found that ASAP nearly doubled the percentage of students needing developmental courses that completed an associate’s degree (40% versus 22% for the control group), by far the largest effects MDRC has found for a community college intervention. And CUNY’s own evaluation of the overall program (not just for those needing remediation) found that the program more than doubled graduation rates.

To learn more, we’re joined by Donna Linderman. She is the Dean for Student Success Initiatives at CUNY and the Executive Director of ASAP.

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Colorado’s Family Planning Initiative: An interview with Larry Wolk, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment – Episode #103

To quote social policy expert Isabel Sawhill, “If we want to reduce poverty [in the U.S.], one of the simplest, fastest and cheapest things we could do would be to make sure that as few people as possible become parents before they actually want to.”

An important state initiative to do that is Colorado’s Family Planning Initiative. Launched in 2009, it has provided 36,000 long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) to low-income women through family planning health centers, while also increasing health care provider education and training. Since it’s launch, Colorado’s teen birth rate has been cut nearly in half: Both the birth rate and abortion rate for women ages 15-19 fell 48 percent from 2009 through 2014. Moreover, for every dollar invested in the LARC program, an estimated $5.85 was avoided within a three-year period by the Colorado Medicaid program.

To learn more, we’re joined by Dr. Larry Wolk, the Executive Director and Chief Medical Officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

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Using food banks to fight diabetes and promote health for vulnerable populations: An interview with Dr. Hilary Seligman, Professor, University of California, San Francisco – Episode #102

Can food banks be used to address diet-sensitive disease in low-income communities? A new study of a pilot intervention suggests they can.

Between 2012 and 2014, researchers enrolled almost 700 food pantry clients with diabetes in a six-month pilot intervention in three states. The intervention provided participants with diabetes-appropriate food, blood sugar monitoring, primary care referral, and self-management support. The results, published in Health Affairs, show small but important improvements on a range of health indicators — with larger effects for those with the most series cases of diabetes. While the findings will need to be confirmed by an impact evaluation (already underway), the intervention creates a model for food banks to use to address diet-sensitive disease in low-income communities. The study also shows the value of running pilot programs to test the feasibility of innovative social programs and to “work out the kinks” before more rigorous evaluation.

To learn more, we’re joined by Dr. Hilary Seligman, the lead author of the study. She is a professor of medicine, epidemiology an biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, a practicing physician, and Senior Medical Advisor and Lead Scientist at Feeding America.

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Colorado’s lean initiative in state government: An interview with Henry Sobanet, Director of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting, State of Colorado – Episode #101

Colorado is a leader among U.S. states in involving state employees in efforts to make state government agencies and programs more efficient and effective through a so-called lean approach. Lean techniques were developed in manufacturing settings, most famously at Toyota, and have since been applied to service settings, including government agencies. Under Governor John Hickenlooper, Colorado launched its lean initiative in 2011 and it has lead to about 200 projects within state agencies and has trained about 2,500 state employees in lean techniques.

To learn more, we are joined by Henry Sobanet, the Director of the Office of State Planning and Budgeting in Colorado, who has spearheaded the state’s lean efforts for Governor Hickenlooper.

Web extra: Henry Sobanet discusses Colorado’s involvement in the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative which is working with 19 states and several counties to implement an innovative cost-benefit analysis approach that helps jurisdictions invest in policies and programs that are backed by strong evidence that they work. [click here]

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A bold proposal to catalyze progress on key social policy challenges, called the Ten Year Challenge: An interview with Jeffrey Liebman, Professor, Harvard Kennedy School – Episode #100

How can the nation catalyze progress on key social policy challenges? A bold proposal, called the Ten Year Challenge, calls for selecting ten important social challenges and then having the federal government fund ten communities or states to address each challenge (so 100 experiments in total), while rigorously evaluating the results. The goal would be to generate a few breakthrough approaches that could be scaled up.

To learn more, we’re joined by the proposal’s author, Jeffrey Liebman, who presented the proposal in a paper published by Results for America and the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution. Liebman is a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, Director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government, and Director of the Government Performance Lab at the Kennedy School. He previously served on the leadership team of the White House Office of Management and Budget and, prior to that, served as an economic advisor to candidate Barack Obama in the 2008 campaign.

On which challenges could the initiative focus? In the paper, Liebman provides examples, including “reducing recidivism among ex-offenders, raising third-grade reading and math skills among low-income children living in high-poverty neighborhoods, preventing youth from dropping out of high school, helping chronically unemployed individuals obtain and keep jobs, raising community college completion rates, reducing obesity-triggered diabetes, eliminating chronic and/or family homelessness, and helping developmentally-disabled youth make successful transitions into the adult workforce, among many others.”

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Reducing bullying in schools through a peer-based strategy: An interview with Betsy Levy Paluck, Professor, Princeton University – Episode #99

There is growing awareness in the U.S. of the problem of bullying in middle and high school. Between a third and a fourth of all students say they have been bullied by other students, whether verbal, physical, and emotional. The potential consequences of bullying and harassment, including violence in schools, has highlighted the need for effective strategies to reduce bullying.

To highlight one evidence-based strategy, we’re joined by Betsy Levy Paluck (@betsylevyp). She is a professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University and an expert in the psychology of social norms, social influence, and behavior change. Along with her co-author Hana Shepherd, she ran a unique field experiment that shows that targeting the most influential students in a school can be a key factor in reducing bullying.

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Applying behavioral insights through the EAST (Easy, Attractive, Social, Timely) framework: An interview with Simon Ruda, UK Behavioral Insights Team – Episode #98

How can public leaders, whether you’re running a large department or a small program, apply the insights of behavioral economics and other behavioral sciences to improve results? A simplified framework for the application of behavioral insights was developed by the U.K. Behavioral Insights Team (@B_I_Tweets) provides a useful way to start. The framework is called “EAST,” which stands for Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely. As the team notes: “Though we do not claim that EAST is a comprehensive summary of all there is to know about behavioral science, we do think that for busy policymakers, the EAST framework is an accessible, simple way to make more effective and efficient policy.”

To learn more, we’re joined by Simon Ruda who is a director at the Behavioral Insights Team.  

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