Let Dr. Crystal Hall Challenge Your Assumptions and Improve Your Impact

By Jill Winsor

We’re continuing to give you previews of what the RE:Conference will bring. Don’t forget to take advantage of Early Bird registration before this Friday (September 23rd)!

On November 16th, Dr. Crystal Hall will join us at the RE:Conference to share what she’s learned with her work with the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team. Much of Dr. Hall’s recent research explores the ways in which wrong assumptions may inform our program design. She has looked at housing as well as financial decision making, and has insight into how we’ve missed opportunities for impact.

If we look closely at programs in Oregon, what incorrect assumptions might we find? Dr. Hall’s work serves as a reminder and a challenge – we must be brave enough to turn the mirror onto our own work and name the errors in our program design. We can use the wealth of behavioral science research to design programs responsive to the behaviors and habits already present in our communities.

Dr. Hall teaches psychology for policy analysis at the Evans School for Social Policy at the University of Washington. Her research has focused on decision making in the context of poverty and how simple interventions relating to self-affirmation and identity can influence behavior. Dr. Hall spent this past year with the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team designing behavioral economics interventions to improve federal programs.

How Do Our Assumptions Get in the Way?

In a recent academic paper, Dr. Hall and her fellow researchers explain:

“Assumptions about decision making and consumer preference guide programs and products intended to help low-income households achieve healthy outcomes and financial stability. Despite their importance to service design and implementation, these assumptions are rarely stated explicitly, or empirically tested. Some key assumptions may reflect ideas carried over from an early era of social-service delivery. Or they may reflect research on decision making by higher income populations that do not hold or have not been tested in a low-income context. This disconnect between assumptions and evidence potentially result in less effective policy design and implementation – at substantial financial and social cost.”

Asset Building/Saving

Dr. Hall and her fellow researchers suggest that in the asset building and savings realm, too much focus has been placed on connecting people with low-incomes to financial products and not enough attention has been given to interventions related to providing reminders and nudges to encourage savings. People with higher incomes are able to “automate much of their financial life” through tools like direct deposit. What can we do to reduce the need for conscious action on the part of our community members with low-incomes? Text message savings reminders have been demonstrated to be extremely effective at increasing consistent savings. Programs that allow workers to set aside a portion of their future earnings toward retirement savings have also been effective at increasing savings.

Housing Choice

Over the years we’ve seen a great deal of analysis of the Housing Choice Voucher program that suggests that voucher recipients tend to remain in high-poverty neighborhoods even when given the option of accessing “better” neighborhoods. Dr. Hall’s team points out that:

“Chronic poverty, long-term exposure to low-opportunity neighborhoods, and financial and personal instability likely play critical roles in physical or mental health, expectations for neighborhood quality, or perspectives on the voucher as a mobility tool.”

People living in poverty are often forced to make frequent moves and may choose to remain in a high-poverty area even after given a voucher in order to protect their families from the destabilizing impact of moving yet again. Additionally, the context of poverty – competing pressures and crises – may not allow individuals to make complex housing decisions related to selecting a “high opportunity” neighborhood.

Dr. Hall’s team suggests that that vouchers alone are not enough and that programs that incorporate “a comprehensive array of information and services to help voucher holders reach high-opportunity neighborhoods” are far more effective. For example, helping families purchase a car can go a long way toward helping them make the move to a high opportunity neighborhood.

We look forward to a more in-depth conversation with Dr. Hall this November! Register today for the RE:Conference!