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Applied Psychology Serving America


by Stephany Below, SIOP Communications Manager

President Obama Issues Executive Order in Support of Applied Psychology, Makes Social and Behavioral Science Team Permanent

President Barack Obama gave a strong show of support to applied psychology September 15 when he issued an Executive Order calling for increased use of behavioral science by the federal government.

The New York Times, in an opinion article published Sept. 19, noted that these actions “may turn out to be among the most consequential of President Obama’s second term.”

The Order, titled “Using Behavioral Science Insights to Better Serve the American People,” specifically encourages executive departments and federal agencies to apply behavioral science insights, test and evaluate the impact of these applications, recruit behavioral science experts to join the federal government, and strengthen agency relationships with the research community to better use empirical findings from behavioral science. 

“A growing body of evidence demonstrates that behavioral science insights—research findings from fields such as behavioral economics and psychology about how people make decisions and act on them—can be used to design government policies to better serve the American people,” the order states. “Where federal policies have been designed to reflect behavioral science insights, they have substantially improved outcomes for the individuals, families, communities, and businesses those policies serve.”

The order goes on to discuss the numerous benefits of using behavioral science.

“To more fully realize the benefits of behavioral insights and deliver better results at a lower cost for the American people, the federal government should design its policies and programs to reflect our best understanding of how people engage with, participate in, use, and respond to those policies and programs. By improving the effectiveness and efficiency of government, behavioral science insights can support a range of national priorities, including helping workers to find better jobs; enabling Americans to lead longer, healthier lives; improving access to educational opportunities and support for success in school; and accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy.”

In addition, the order made permanent the first-ever White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team (SBST), a cross-agency group of experts in applied behavioral science that translates findings and methods from the social and behavioral sciences into improvements in federal policies and programs. The team, assembled by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in 2014, is implemented under the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), chaired by the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, and will provide advice and guidance to help agencies implement the Executive Order.

The announcement was viewed as a message of strong support for the behavioral sciences, and industrial and organizational psychology in particular was well represented in the work that led to the Order.

As a member of the SBST, SIOP Fellow Lori Foster and her colleagues conducted the work on which the announcement and associated report are based. The White House tapped Foster last year to serve on the newly created SBST to help federal agencies increase the efficiency and efficacy of their programs and policies by harnessing research methods and findings from the social and behavioral sciences, according to a recent release by her university, North Carolina State.

NC State's College of Humanities and Social Sciences worked with their provost office and Department of Psychology so that Foster could join the team last year. Read a press release from NC State here.

The SBST website, https://sbst.gov/, was also launched September 15 and coincided with the release of the team’s first annual report. The report represents SBST’s “successful efforts in its first year to apply behavioral insights to federal policy and to measure the impact of these applications on key policy outcomes using rigorous evaluations.” It covers two core areas on which SBST focused in its first year: streamlining access to programs and improving government efficiency.

The SBST plans to continue to build on their successes by launching 20 new projects in the upcoming year, focused on everything from helping children retain access to nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches, to providing unemployed workers with enhanced job-search support, according to a recent article written for the White House website by Maya Shankar, Senior Advisor for the Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Of particular interest to I-O psychologists are the team’s work with state unemployment insurance (UI) and a project supporting military spouses’ career preparation. Read more about these projects here.

SIOP Fellow Elizabeth Kolmstetter was in attendance at the daytime event, and SIOP Fellow and President-Elect Jim Outtz and SIOP Member and Membership Services Officer Mo Wang joined Foster in attendance at the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team reception following the signing of the signing of the Order, which was held to recognize the work of the team as well as to discuss the integration of behavioral insights into policymaking.

This marks another positive step toward applied psychology, I-O psychology in particular, playing a more active role in the social and political realm, stated SIOP President Steve Kozlowski.

“The unique value of I-O psychology is the profound impact it can have for improving personal well-being and organizational effectiveness,” Kozlowski stated. “This Executive Order is a momentous development because it recognizes the tremendous value that I-O psychology can contribute to the well-being of Americans by enhancing the effectiveness of federal programs and the functioning of the agencies that manage them. It endorses SIOP’s efforts to advocate for the science and practice of I-O psychology with the federal government so we can make important and meaningful impacts on the national scene. SIOP leaders and members are excited and will continue to contribute to these efforts.”

SIOP’s Washington DC-based federal government relations firm also noted the significance of the Executive Order and Social and Behavioral Sciences Team to SIOP and I-O psychology.

“The Administration’s attention on and investment in social and behavioral science is a great opportunity for SIOP to further engage federal agency officials and serve as a resource to policy makers across the federal government,” said Laura Uttley, of Lewis-Burke and Associates. Uttley also attended the reception following the signing of the executive order. “Further, representatives from across federal departments and agencies were present at the day-long events and the reception, indicating the Administration’s effort to embed these policies in agencies, not just the Executive Office.” 



Kristin Lee, Assistant Director of Communications for OSTP (White House Office of Science and Technology Policy): kristin_d_lee@ostp.eop.gov.    

Photo Credit: https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/09/15/designing-federal-programs-american-people-mind