Cambridge, MA—Harvard’s Behavioral Insights Group (BIG) and the Mayors Innovation Project are launching a partnership to develop and test behavioral solutions to city problems. Working with Harvard’s team of behavioral economists, decision research scholars, and behavioral scientists, Mayors Innovation Project member cities will access innovative research and co-develop high-impact, low-cost solutions to city problems. The first cohort of six cities – Columbia SC, Tacoma WA, Golden CO, Grand Rapids MI, Burlington VT, and South Bend IN –  were selected to participate via a competitive process.

"Golden, CO is excited to participate in this cohort – it’s a great opportunity for us to tap into the expertise of the Behavioral Insights Group and the Mayors Innovation Project,” stated Mayor Marjorie Sloan, Golden, CO, “We’re looking forward to working on behavior-based water-use interventions that will move our community closer to its water conservation goals.”

The partnership will kick off with a day-long workshop on April 12 at Harvard University, where BIG faculty and Mayors Innovation Project member cities will discuss solutions to problems as wide ranging as increasing voluntary contributions to energy poverty relief fund administered by municipal power utility, increasing voluntary Code Compliance after first notice, and encouraging local property owners (business and residential) to plant trees on their property to increase the urban canopy. 

Work includes in-depth consultation and planning with Harvard faculty, an in-person meeting on campus, and ongoing support, advice, and analysis from the BIG team. By applying rigorous experimental design and data analysis to the ways in which local governments interact with their residents, we can improve outcomes for education, health, equity, the environment, and city finances.

“BIG is thrilled that so many cities are interested in applying behavioral science to their policy agendas, and we look forward to working with the Mayors Innovation Project and its member cities on research-driven solutions for the public good,” said Abigail Dalton, Assistant Director for the Behavioral Insights Group.

Launched in 2013 by faculty co-directors Iris Bohnet and Max Bazerman, the Behavioral Insights Group (BIG) at the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School brings together Harvard’s outstanding group of decision research scholars, behavioral economists, and other behavioral scientists to focus their energies on improving how decisions are made, both by leaders, and by individuals. BIG is driven by the belief that improving the quality of our leaders’ decisions is a core lever we possess to improve the world.

“We are pleased to partner with the Behavioral Insights Group to help cities build their capacity to apply the principles of behavioral science to real world problems, while advancing the field through rigorous scholarship” said Satya Rhodes-Conway, Managing Director of the Mayors Innovation Project. “We are committed to bringing opportunities like this to our member cities.”

The Mayors Innovation Project is a learning network for American mayors committed to “high road” policy and governance: shared prosperity, environmental sustainability, and efficient democratic government. It provides clear, useful information on policies and programs for local governments and create high-quality peer learning experiences for local leaders. Participating cities represent a broad diversity of population, geography, economic situation, form of government, and more. All cities are welcome. Since its inception, over 200 cities, representing over 52 million people in 44 states and Canada, have participated in the Mayors Innovation Project.

For more information, please contact:

Abigail Dalton
Assistant Director, Behavioral Insights Group
Center for Public Leadership, Harvard Kennedy School