Behavioral Design 2021

State of the field in 2021 and beyond — Opinions, predictions, and thoughts from leaders in the field

Samuel Salzer
Behavioral Design Hub
29 min readFeb 26, 2021


2020 brought with it a newfound appreciation for the complexity of human behavior and the importance of context in understanding and predicting our patterns. As a professional community, behavioral science and design enjoyed an unprecedented spotlight from the government, research, and private sectors alike. Still, we were also faced with stark truths about the limits of our current approaches when put to the test at mass societal levels of change.

This report features behavioral design insights from various experts in the field, helping us understand what happened in the past year and where the field is headed. The current year of 2021 brings further uncertainty, but this collection of insights aims to shed light on how we can change behavior and design for a better world.

1. Hindisght is 2020
2. Multidisciplinary collaboration
3. Debiased data
4. Diversity and context
5. Changing norms
6. Systems of change
7. New frontiers
8. Recommendations
9. Conclusions

A Note on Terminology
As the various terms used by our contributors in this report indicate, all the sub-disciplines and different professions of behavioral design are still to unite under one umbrella term. In this collection, we have collated all areas of expertise committed to understanding and positively influencing behavioral outcomes under the term “behavioral design” to allude to the convening of research and implementation in the pursuit of changing behavior for good.

🎧 Want to listen to an in-depth discussion on the report? Click here.

“…what looks like a simple need to overcome irrational decision-making is actually grounded in deeply rooted, systemic realities of class and identity.”

– Ruth Schmidt

In February of 2020, the first edition of this report was published containing predictions and insights for the industry in the new decade. Merely weeks after publication the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the behavioral science and design community was thrust into the spotlight from a public health perspective. The pandemic continues to offer numerous insights into the complexity of human behavior and the role of our community in contributing to positive behavior change at the societal level. This foray into a societal level health crisis strengthened collaboration with other disciplines and perspectives, which could pave the way for future contributions to large-scale societal issues involving human behavior.

If there is a silver lining of sorts, I’m encouraged by the progress I’ve seen in 2020, in terms of the behavioral science community (academics, policy makers, and practitioners) coming together to share ideas and collaborate on COVID-related efforts (such as vaccine acceptance). I’m hoping that we can build on this momentum in 2021 and apply similar collaboration to other societal challenges (such as poverty, inequity, climate change — and perhaps political polarization).

– Scott Young

In many ways, behavioral science and design mainstream methods and deliverables quickly proved to fall short in understanding, explaining or changing seemingly simple societal behaviors like wearing a mask or working from home. Deeper determinants such as systemic societal injustice and cultural differences direct us to a better understanding of our methodological and design limitations.

Seemingly neutral actions like “wear a mask” or the behest to work from home carried wildly different meanings depending on the audience, reminding us that sometimes what looks like a simple need to overcome irrational decision-making is actually grounded in deeply rooted, systemic realities of class and identity.

– Ruth Schmidt

This lack of penetration into the many layers of human behavior is deeply ingrained in our data, and in the lack of diversity reflected in the wider context of psychological science.

This was the first time everyone on the planet faced the same problem at the same time which allowed us to see the influence of cultural context played out in the widely varying government solutions and citizen reactions to COVID-19. This made it clearer than ever that we should always factor in the wider environment and strive to understand the role of cultural context in human behaviour. We have known for a decade that psychological science is predominantly WEIRD but it was 2020 that highlighted that is also fundamentally… white. To me, that shows just how much work we have ahead of us to understand the full range of human behaviour.

– Elina Halonen

Amidst the pandemic, a global uprise against racism through the Black Lives Matter movement, widespread political unrest, and pressure on behavioral science to deliver actionable insights for public health behavior change, our community was challenged by the limits of our knowledge and processes of delivering change outcomes.

2020 was truly an unprecedented year for behavioural science as in the absence of the COVID vaccine behavioural design became our only hope and our only remedy. We learned how little we understand about human behaviour in uncertain environments and how badly we manage our supply chains.

– Ganna Progrebna

2020 shone a spotlight on the limitations of behavioral science and design but also illuminated how our well-established constructs operate in the field. Confirmation bias made its presence known in the societal discourse surrounding pandemic related behavior change like mask-wearing, amid systemic injustice related discussions on racism and in several political elections across the globe.

This wasn’t a totally new learning, but it was reinforced by 2020: The confirmation bias is real. People are always looking for evidence to support the way they do or want to see the world.

– Amy Bucher

Ultimately, the opportunities and limitations of behavioral science brought forth by a societal upset in 2020 create an opportunity for our community to better integrate our analytical science with experiential design and move a step further into the power of explaining and predicting human behavior in the real world.

The accidental field experiment caused by the pandemic has demonstrated both the continued potential and the very real limitations of relying solely on an analytical problem-solving approach when solving for real-world complexity. Creating effective, sticky solutions needs both strong analysis — behavioral science’s center of gravity — to systematically crack the code, and synthesis — design’s superpower — to synthesize those findings into something greater than the sum of its parts, envisioning not just what works based on what we know from the past, but identifying new opportunities and building conditions to support what could be.

– Ruth Schmidt

“Behavioral scientists must work in concert with designers, artists, policy makers, and industry leaders to develop and test strategies and interventions aimed at bringing out the best of all of us.”

– Nathaniel Barr, Pierre-Jean Male, and Kelly Peters

In our 2020 report, the need for more multidisciplinary collaboration was already pinpointed as an area of growth for the behavioral science and design industry and we felt this need keenly throughout the year. Recommendations for 2021 from our expert contributors again highlight the need for more frequent and diverse multidisciplinary collaboration to realize the potential of behavioral science and design as an industry.

We need to share more information about the design and implementation details of our interventions so that we can learn what really matters. And we do this as truly multi-disciplinary teams of psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, economists, designers & data scientists.

– Neela A. Saldanha

Traditionally a knowledge creation discipline, behavioral science is now called to become an integrated part of existing change processes, such as broader service and product design, operations, and strategy implementation. Looking beyond initially obvious collaboration and multidisciplinary integration possibilities opens an exciting door for our community to break down the silos plaguing traditional academic science versus practice and provide value where we can rather than where we are traditionally expected to.

There are adjacent disciplines such as service design and customer experience (CX) that could hugely benefit from the expertise of behavioural scientists. I find it is surprising anyone would even try to design services and experiences without a solid and nuanced understanding of human behaviour — yet hardly any applied behavioural scientists seem to work in those fields! It seems like an exciting opportunity for real-world impact and sustainable long-term growth for our profession, so I hope to see that happen in 2021.

– Elina Halonen

As broadening the opportunities and impact of behavioral science and design becomes more frequent, we must find a balance between specifying the unique identity of our discipline and integrating perspectives and approaches from various areas of expertise and contexts of practice.

As they gain popularity, and enrich the toolbox of applied disciplines (such as marketing, HR, product management or UX), behavioural sciences, and their design component, run the risk of dissolving into them. On the academic side, the same possibility exists, of becoming a sub-branch of economics, or of consumer psychology, which have already incorporated their most promising concepts.

The natural tendency of behavioural economists to counter this phenomenon is to build dikes. Self-recognized communities promoting methodological rigor and scientific standards to distinguish true behavioural science from the rest. But I see there is a risk to amplify a self-centred view and to freeze look-alike practices. We should take care of not creating a small world looking at his self-reflection.

– Richard Bordenave

Behavioral science and design can be a powerful ally to realizing the change individuals, communities, and organizations across the globe hope to see. To do so, multidisciplinary collaboration is imperative.

In 2021, behavioral science and design should be a critical component of a concerted, collaborative effort across all sectors of society aimed at further illuminating the human behavioral and psychological factors that contribute to our collective struggles. Most importantly, behavioral science and design can help us craft solutions. Behavioral scientists must work in concert with designers, artists, policy makers, and industry leaders to develop and test strategies and interventions aimed at bringing out the best of all of us.

– Nathaniel Barr, PhD; Pierre-Jean Male, PhD, and Kelly Peters

“The one-size-fits-all approach to choice architecture is on its way out. This will be replaced by smart data-driven defaults that are easily customisable.”

– David Perrott

For multidisciplinary collaboration to truly create a positive impact on the extent to which behavioral science and design can change human behavior in the real world, it must move beyond conceptual discussion and exist at the data collection, analysis, and interpretation level.

But understanding and making sense of the data, with an actual human perspective, is the first step in designing behavioural interventions. This involves a multi-disciplinary approach, and critical judgement, to defining THE problem within a set of many problems.

– Faisal Naru

Multidisciplinary perspectives and collaboration at the data level become ever more important as we find pathways to customizing solutions with diverse communities and end-users in mind. Ethical and technological boundaries also play into the importance of reflecting human complexity, diversity, and context of experience at the data level.

The one-size-fits-all approach to choice architecture is on its way out. This will be replaced by smart data-driven defaults that are easily customisable. Citizens are sharpening up to how contexts (especially digital contexts) influence their behaviour, and there is only so far personalisation can go without hitting ethical and technical walls. Customisation breaks down those walls, especially if there are feedback loops that track what customisations for individuals and when.

As the replicability crisis, cultural variability and other lessons around population heterogeneity have shown us, often the scientific literature is not enough. Sophisticated practitioners and citizen choice architects are starting to treat findings as informed hypotheses and running experiments themselves to see what works in their particular context. Finding effective ways to share and organise these learnings could lead to huge breakthroughs for the field.

– David Perrott

This level of multidisciplinary collaboration over data collection, analysis, and interpretation will require us as a community to engage in training in methods and analyses from other disciplines, not to necessarily master them but to become versed in them enough to create meaningful multidisciplinary discussion and collaboration at the data level.

First, we have a responsibility to bring our specialized training to evaluate the quality and meaning of data that is used to determine how people experience an intervention. As trained researchers, we have the ability to detect whether there may be confounds or biases in historical data that should guide whether and how it’s used in design. Second, behavior designers understand motivation and cognition uniquely well among design professionals, and can contribute that understanding to shape how algorithms might personalize an intervention; personalization is the key to making digital effective, so this is a critical contribution. And third, I think it’s important for behavioral designers to get familiar with the tools used by data scientists and technologists so that we can collaborate more effectively. This is one of my personal 2021 development goals.

– Amy Bucher

In integrating data analysis and interpretation approaches, we might also find opportunity and value in further integrating our intra-discipline approaches of behavioral science and design. Such an endeavor has the potential to increase the effectiveness of our solutions and provide a fertile foundation for systematically creating experiences that serve diverse populations in the context they know in a language that resonates with them.

I think the of behavioral science and strategic design is finally in the right place at the right time. It’s always struck me as a bit ironic that “behavioral design” follows a scientific process rather than a design methodology; despite the emergence of concepts familiar to human-centered design like empathy and contextual user research, there’s still been a tendency to either sprinkle the design like a kind of condiment or seasoning onto the main course of the scientific method, or to force-fit it into a scientific mold that risks watering down the very attributes and generative nature that could make design a formidable complementary partner.

– Ruth Schmidt

“The one thing I was particularly reminded of in 2020, is the extraordinary context-dependency of human behavior.”

– Torben Emmerling

Even amidst the societal level of change the 2020 pandemic response required, diversity of experience and context emerged as leading determinants of human behavior trends. We might design and experiment for a whole society to change at once, but it is the nuance of experience for individual people and communities that defines engagement with our interventions and insights. The pandemic thrust behavioral science and design into a real-life experiment. The results show that as a discipline and a professional community we can no longer ignore the diversity of experience, identity, privilege, needs, and context in the science we conduct and the solutions we design.

Context is king, we preach. There is no one-size-fits-all, we argue. Human beings are complicated, we pronounce. And yet, we set up expectations on projects around large effects across populations. We focus on a few interventions and test them in isolation. Naturally, when interventions produce small or no impacts in real life or those impacts don’t sustain when combined with other interventions, our partners are disappointed.

– Neela A. Saldanha

Psychological science is known for the lack of diversity in its research populations. There is no space in the evidence-based world of applied behavioral insights and solutions for this to be the case any longer. Diversifying research populations and the end-users of our designs will create temporary discomfort but will result in a science and design that is true to reality.

We move out of comfortably WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democractic) environments that dominate current psychological research and test the universality of our assumptions in new contexts. We design and test portfolios of interventions in an adaptive fashion.

– Neela A. Saldanha

When questioning the limitations of our behavior change interventions illuminated by their real-world application during the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of engagement and response from multiple communities might indicate our lack of understanding of the realities of life in their unique context.

The one thing I was particularly reminded of in 2020, is the extraordinary context-dependency of human behavior. Social, ecological, economical and organizational decisions may vary depending on whether they are made in office or home office.

– Torben Emmerling

The need for context specificity and its importance in creating accessibility to behavioral support for diverse populations became a daily discussion for our industry when the world started working from home. All at once and all together. This unprecedented change brought more attention to the needs and desires of diverse communities of professionals and if we continue to pay attention, we can create the research and designs to truly be of service to them.

I hope we retain some of the use of technology to accomplish work differently because of the opportunities it extends to the disabled community. While it’s unfortunate we needed a pandemic to convince people that work could happen virtually, that accessibility accommodations can benefit almost anyone, and that flexibility about how work happens can lead to great results, we’ve now gathered evidence that it’s the case. I hope we’ll see more disabled folks brought into our work teams and represented in our research studies as we extend our notions of inclusion. Doing so will make us better behavioral designers, both by broadening our ranks to include more diverse people, and by making sure diverse voices are better represented in our research and mental models.

– Amy Bucher

Beyond diversity on the accessibility, identity, race, gender, and other such spectra, context specificity determines not just our ability to create effective behavior change, but the parameters within which we must design it. Yet again, the real-life experiment in behavior change across the globe in the past year showed us our limitations in understanding and designing for communities outside of the privileged contexts of developed countries.

Essentially, even the best of our consumer choice models which work rather well under normal circumstances completely fall apart when we have sudden demand shocks (recall the sanitizer, facial masks, and even toilet paper shortages in many countries around the globe at the beginning of last year). We also learned that behavioural design which works perfectly well in developed countries (e.g., 20-second handwashing advice) is useless in the developing world (e.g., where water is in short supply). I hope these lessons will help us become more thorough and inclusive going forward.

– Ganna Progrebna

In this work of diversifying our research and design, honing in on the nuances of what is meant by the term “context” or “diversity” might in itself be a fruitful exercise.

I realized that context is currently a too broad “catch-all /explain everything” concept to be certain it is explored properly. And so is culture by the way. Everyone has their own definition and areas of investigation (cognitive, physical, social…). The Behavioural economist is searching for biases, the psychologist for social norms, and the anthropologist for cultural patterns. And each has their inevitable blind spots (including weird bias).

– Richard Bordenave

“How has social coordination changed the game — or, more appropriately, changed the norm?”

– Kristen Berman

Social norms have been a common tool to change behavior but used less frequently to understand, predict, or direct change in the norms themselves. Nevertheless, social norms are and have changed and as experts in human behavior, we must be aware of how they are changing.

Norms are changing. People now work out differently, cook differently, even make friends and find lovers in new ways. Social coordination opens up new markets by inspiring new customer demand. In 2021, we’ll need to ask the question: How has social coordination changed the game — or, more appropriately, changed the norm?

– Kristen Berman

As we understand changes in social norms, we might find our multidisciplinary collaborative data and work to also benefit from a broader and deeper application of motivational psychology.

Motivational psychology will become an even more critical approach for behavior change. With more people working remotely, and a slow return to in-person likely given the realities of vaccination operations, organizations must understand people’s innate drivers in order to yield the best results. It’s a lot harder to establish environmental controls in a distributed world, so employers and other organizations will need to rely on people’s self-regulation to accomplish shared goals. And that means tapping into people’s motivation.

– Amy Bucher

We’ve seen social norms changing in the world of work and healthcare in 2020. At such macro levels of engagement with and adoption of new behaviors, it is powerful to witness the transformation a socially normative behavior can create in society. We might help behavior change along more effectively at the micro-levels of social functioning as well by tapping into this powerful innate motivator of human behavior more.

The immediate appeal of digital health in our current context speaks volumes about the external influences on human behavior. That previously skeptical individuals who would have been slow to adopt digital health into their self-care, are potentially now shoved into a world where digital health (and mobile health) solutions are becoming the default. Increased resources and education are now available to help support people’s adoption of digital health platforms, and with an increasing number of people adopting digital health solutions, the strength of the social norm is increasing.

– Ada Le & Kelly Peters

“…we should instead start with the human beings and system context that we’re planning to design for.”

— Ruth Schmidt

We are arriving in the era of systems in behavioral science and design. To take context, changing norms, multidisciplinary collaboration, and debiased data into account in our processes and ways of working requires systems thinking and design. Ultimately, we are a part of creating and supporting systems of change, not just individual use cases of behaviour change interventions.

These shifts indicated that the recipients and behaviors targeted by behavioral design may occur within a more complex and nuanced system than top-down interventions may currently be designed to accommodate, and that assumptions of equal access within systems that are themselves biased can compound problems more than solving them. It also suggests that maybe the goal of generalizing behaviors and interventions to address them across contexts gets it backwards, and that we should instead start with the human beings and system context that we’re planning to design for.

– Ruth Schmidt

Designing and researching for systems of change requires the behavioral perspective from the outset of new questions with behavioral outcomes, rather than being included as ad-hoc consulting or full-time expertise added on to existing systems.

An unintended consequence of the extremely useful nudge framing that popularized the behavioral approach in recent years is that it has left many people erroneously thinking that applied behavioral science is only about making small changes to existing programs. Richard Thaler agrees with this perspective — “even more ambitiously, identifying projects where behavioral scientists can be involved at the very start, helping to create the blueprints of a program before ground has ever been broken.”

– Josh Wright

Focusing on systems of change will allow us to delve deeper into the collective behavioral dynamics we found challenging to explain and predict in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So to me the systemic, dynamic, and societal nature of these changes will require new conceptual tools on top of those currently available (may be too much focused on the individuals stimulus-response, not enough on collective dynamics). It will also need more digital technology and data. To create the favourable ecosystem, we need to connect the dots.

– Richard Bordenave

Behavioral science and design have the potential to create individual, organizational and societal change proactively, not just retroactively explain why certain changes occur. To create this paradigm shift and realize our potential for creating proactive change, we must focus on building predictive models of debiased and multidisciplinary data.

This predictive ability, in my view, should be one of the major axes on which we aim to enhance the field. It is predicting in advance what will work that is important, rather than trying to explain a behavioral phenomenon after the fact (which has a tendency to lead to satisfying but ultimately unfalsifiable storytelling).

– Spencer Greenberg

Systems of change are made up of humans. Just as we observe and nudge the behavior of others, to create meaningful change in how or at what level the behavioral perspective enters a workflow must come from continuous empathetic communication with stakeholders and collaborators at the human level.

While communications is often where organisational empathy is displayed, it is only the last mile. As such its success lies in the processes prior and the emotional intelligence applied systemically within the processes of decision-making.

– Faisal Naru

“Are we prepared to get our hands dirty to tackle the most challenging problems confronting the world, or will we play it safe and allow policymakers to stumble into dead ends?“

– Aline Holzwarth

Many of the issues facing humanity today could be solved more efficiently with a behavioral perspective. In 2021, let’s expand our horizons and imagination to new challenges of human behavior.

Behavioral science has a great deal to contribute to the pressing issues of the day — beyond really urgent matters like COVID-19 vaccine takeup — such as attacking poverty by changing narratives around those who are living with chronic scarcity, and redesigning programs to account for how hard and mentally taxing it is to live with poverty by creating slack and opportunity, not draconian rules and hassles designed to punish those with lower-incomes.

– Josh Wright

The expansion of use cases for behavioral science and design can start from the creative thinking and trial and error of individual researchers and practitioners. Don’t be afraid to try new ways of applying your expertise.

I discovered many potential uncharted paths, but the four I settled on included self-applied behavioural science, the psychology of open-source collaboration, customisable defaults and the field’s intersection with chronobiology. So far this exploration has been fruitful, but in ways that are very different to what I initially expected. And I think that is my big learning from 2020: Don’t be afraid to spend a portion of your time following your curiosity down unfamiliar paths, you may just stumble across the future.

– David Perrott

The COVID-19 pandemic already changed many of the daily systems we exist in rather abruptly. In 2021, we’ll need to pay close attention to the elements of these new systems that will define the new reality of our lives and which were just a temporary shift to accommodate the pandemic.

Organizations of all sizes, from governments to corporations to families, are struggling with the uncertainty of what constitutes effective policies and strategies in today’s new reality. How can the better energy and CO2 balances of companies resulting from the changed behaviours be preserved in the long term? How do we ensure ethical and compliant work from home offices? How do we make quick and effective remote decisions as teams? Behavioral science has great potential to effectively address the associated challenges, but should never be sold as a panacea. Our ability to provide nuanced answers now, will determine whether behavioral insights will play a greater role in the solution of individual and societal challenges in future.

– Torben Emmerling

This upcoming year might also be the right time to offer support to organizations across sectors and industries as they face the challenge of creating long-term changes in the behaviors of their collective members.

To that end, I think there’s now a “moment of opportunity” to nudge private sector companies to re-visit their purpose — and invest more heavily in behavior change initiatives to help their customers and employees instil positive habits (tied to sustainability, healthier eating, better hygiene, financial well-being, etc.). These are all areas which Behavioral Science can play an enormous role — and in which “win-win-win” outcomes (that are good for the company, its customers or employees and society) are very possible.

– Scott Young

We learned a lot about the opportunities and limitations of our industry in 2020. Let’s put these lessons into practice in 2021.

This year will be a test for behavioral science. Are we prepared to get our hands dirty to tackle the most challenging problems confronting the world, or will we play it safe and allow policymakers to stumble into dead ends? If we are ready to roll up our sleeves, we’ll need to be better integrated with the systems and processes that have the potential for change. I hope that 2021 brings more side-by-side collaboration between behavioral scientists and operations managers. We can’t merely shout our “3 tips for success” into the void; rather, we need to share our playbooks directly with change-makers, embedding ourselves into implementation processes and advising every step of the way.

– Aline Holzwarth

Put the powerful insights shared by our contributing experts into practice by considering the following recommendations:

  1. Identify the biggest lessons learned in 2020 from your own clients, collaborations, and thinking to solidify your personal takeaways from this exceptional year.
  2. Create opportunities for multidisciplinary collaboration beyond what exists in your current work context.
  3. Look beyond the usual use cases and areas of application for behavioral science and design to advocate for a behavioral perspective in new challenges humanity will face in 2021.
  4. Identify and create more opportunities to involve the behavioral perspective from the beginning of a new project to increase the impact and value behavioral science and design can bring overall.
  5. Consider integrating multidisciplinary and debiased data in your models of change for a more realistic reflection of the complexity of human behavior.
  6. Take tangible steps to prioritize diversity in your research and design processes even if it means investing additional resources at the beginning to set up new processes that would allow diversity to be prioritized.
  7. Consider using adaptive research methods to better reflect the complexity of human behavior in real life and increase the predictive validity of data models.
  8. Get creative with trying out new use cases and areas of application for your craft.
  9. Design and research for systems of change to further the cumulative science and art of changing human behavior.
  10. Pay attention to the cultural sensitivity and customization of your research and design to create behavior change solutions that reflect and are accessible to users in a variety of cultural and socioeconomic contexts.

In the face of the unprecedented challenges that 2020 presented to us as a professional community, it was nothing if not a year of great learning. The field continues in its adolescence phase of figuring out who we are and where we can best bring value to the world. Although some hard truths emerged about the limitations of our science and interventions thus far, we are also now better prepared to integrate these learnings into our work in 2021. This means collaborating more across disciplines, in end-to-end processes of change, prioritizing diversity and context-specific insights and exploring new areas of application. This report should stand as a reminder that we have much work left before realizing our full potential as a field, and that we can only look to each other in ensuring a high standard of rigor and excellence. If we do, we believe the future continues to look bright for our emerging field.

Don't forget to clap 👏👏 if you found the report insightful. Grazi!

Samuel is a leading behavioral strategist and habit expert, having worked with organizations across Europe, Australia, and North America. Among other things, he’s one of the world’s first Chief Behavioral Officer’s in digital health, and he specializes in applying insights from behavioral science and behavioral economics to build user-centered and habit-forming products and services. Samuel is also a frequent keynote speaker, curator of the popular newsletter Habit Weekly, and has co-authored Nudging in practice — Helping organizations make it easy to do the right thing. The book offers a comprehensive guide to organizations interested in understanding and systematically utilizing behavioral insights.

Dr. Silja Voolma is a behavioral scientist and practitioner with 10+ years of experience in researching, designing and advocating for digital health innovation. She leads a research and design consulting agency Behavioral Design Global. Silja holds a Ph.D. in Public Health and Primary Care from the University of Cambridge and an M.Sc. in Health Psychology from the University of St Andrews. She has hands-on experience of innovating in digital health in the academic, startup and government sectors, including leading the design and implementation of the digital, ethical, training and implementation infrastructure of personalised medicine into the Estonian national healthcare system with the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs. Taking a human-first and intersectional approach to digital innovation are cornerstones of Silja’s work to deliver accessible, and enjoyable experiences that add value to the communities they serve.


This post includes the highlights from all selected contributions curated based on the major themes and topics at hand. We (the editors) would like to extend our deepest gratitude to all the wonderful contributors who made this piece possible. It is honestly hard to find a better representation of the field than this and we encourage you to learn more about their work below.

Aline is an applied behavioral scientist, specializing in digital health research and scientifically informed product design. She is Head of Behavioral Science at Pattern Health and Principal of the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University.

Neela Saldanha is an independent consultant, working at the intersection of behavioral science and poverty alleviation. She consults with a number of nonprofits including Surgo Ventures and advises organizations such as Busara Center for Behavioral Economics and Dvara Money. She is a Board member at The LIfe You Can Save, the organization co-founded by philosopher Peter Singer to catalyze giving in the fight against global poverty. She was recently named one of the “10 Behavioral Scientists You Should Know.

Amy Bucher, Ph.D., is Vice President of Behavior Change Design at Mad*Pow. Amy designs engaging and motivating solutions that help people achieve personal goals, especially related to health, wellness, learning, and financial well-being. Her research interests include motivational design, patient and user engagement, happiness, how social relationships influence health and well-being, and cross-cultural behavior change strategies. Amy is the author of the Rosenfeld Media book Engaged: Designing for Behavior Change.

Torben is the Founder and Managing Partner of Affective Advisory and the author of the D.R.I.V.E.® framework for behavioral insights in strategy and public policy. He is a Founding Member and Non Executive Director on the board of the Global Association of Applied Behavioural Scientists (GAABS), and a seasoned lecturer, keynote speaker and author in behavioral science and applied consumer psychology.

Ganna Pogrebna is Professor of Behavioral Analytics and Data Science at the University of Sydney. She also serves as a Lead of Behavioral Data Science strand at the Alan Turing Institute — the national centre for AI and Data Science in London (UK), where Ganna is a fellow working on hybrid modelling approaches between behavioral science and data science (e.g., anthropomorphic learning). Ganna published many articles in high-quality peer-refereed journals. She also currently serves as an associate editor of Judgement and Decision Making journal. Ganna studied Economics at the University of Missouri Kansas City (US) and the University of Innsbruck (Austria). She holds a Ph.D. in Economics and Social Sciences. Before coming to Sydney, Ganna worked at Columbia University in New York (USA), the University of Bonn (Germany), Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Germany), the University of Innsbruck (Austria), the University of Warwick (UK), and the University of Birmingham (UK).

Josh Wright is the Executive Director at ideas42, a leading behavioral design firm. Josh previously headed up the Office of Financial Education and Financial Access at the United States Department of the Treasury. Previously, Josh held positions at the Center for Community Change, Booz Allen and Hamilton’s Commercial Management Consulting business, and was a Senior Executive at Bertelsmann’s Random House, Inc.

He has extensive experience in the for-profit, non-profit, and public sectors; industry experience in financial services, media and entertainment, housing, and youth development; and functional expertise in business strategy, new business development, and new venture creation.

Josh has also been a visiting lecturer at the Princeton Woodrow Wilson School, serves on the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Behavior, and is a frequent public speaker on applied behavioral science. He holds a BA in Economics from Wesleyan University and an MBA from the Yale School of Management.

Kristen Berman co-founded Irrational Labs, a behavioral product design company, with Dan Ariely in 2013. Irrational Labs helps companies and nonprofits understand and leverage behavioral economics to increase the health, wealth and happiness of their users. She also co-founded Common Cents Lab, a Duke University initiative dedicated to improving the financial well-being for low to middle Americans and was on founding team of Google’s behavioral economics team. Irrational labs is now accepting applications for their 2020 bootcamp.

Ruth Schmidt is an associate professor at the Institute of Design (ID) at Chicago’s Illinois Institute of Technology whose work sits at the intersection of behavioral science, complex systems, and humanity-centered design. For a running archive of her work, including articles, tools, and other thought-pieces, check out her website and occasional tweets as @ruthkschmidt.

Kelly Peters is the CEO and Co-founder of BEworks, the world’s leading Behavioural Economics firm and one of the largest employers of psychologists in the private sector. She believes that when applied properly, scientific thinking has the power to transform society. Kelly developed the BEworks Method, a proprietary framework which fuses behavioural insights with the scientific method. This approach has been applied to complex challenges at many of the world’s largest firms and government agencies. At the same time that she was developing the BEworks Method, she began developing the foundations of Beworks Academy, developing courses and programs to teach organizations the fundamentals of behavioural science. She teaches Applied Behavioural Science at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management — one of the world’s top MBA programs — and is a regular lecturer at Cornell, Harvard, and other notable educational institutions.

Elina Halonen is a behavioural insights strategist and a cultural psychologist with 15 years of experience in applying behavioural science to strategy. In addition to her behaviour change consultancy Square Peg Insight, she is also the founder of Behavioral Change Society, an online training platform for applied behavioural science. She also writes about cultural psychology on her site Mind In Context.

David has worked as an applied behavioural scientist for the past 7 years. Initially, as the director of Gravity Ideas (2013–2019) and then as an independent consultant. He has worked with governments, companies and financial technology start-ups across Africa, Europe, Australia and Asia. David is also a founding member of Diversifi, a member of GAABS and winner of the Nudgestock Grand Prix Award (2016) and BX Practitioners Award (2018).

In addition to his consulting, David also runs a set of behavioural science capability building programmes. This includes his most recent initiative, Circles in Time, which focuses on helping practitioners build behavioural-informed systems to resolve their own recurring self-control challenges. David also hosts an applied behavioural science-focused podcast called Sample of One and shares a newsletter called The Weekly Circle.

Scott Young is Senior VP of the BVA Nudge Unit (, a global consultancy specialised in driving successful behavioral change. Scott transitioned to this role after 20+ years leading Perception Research Services (and later PRS IN VIVO), a top-25 global shopper insights agency.

Scott is passionate about finding “win-win-win” opportunities (that benefit companies, consumers and society) — and in applying behavioral science to help individuals and organizations make better decisions and adopt more sustainable habits. He can be reached at

Spencer is an entrepreneur and mathematician. He’s the founder of Spark Wave, a startup foundry which creates novel software products from scratch, designed to help solve problems in the world using behavioral science (e.g. scalable care for depression and anxiety, technology for accelerating and improving social science research).

Faisal Naru has extensive experience in the public and private sector. He is an expert in strategy, public policy, behavioural insights, institutional reform, politics, international development, and setting up and delivering social and economic development programmes globally. He is also an accomplished leader and senior manager in running teams and corporate organisations. He currently supports the Executive Director to monitor, coordinate and provide strategic advice in the day to day management of the Directorate and the Director’s office in line with the OECD Secretary General’s Strategic Objectives.

A seasoned marketing executive with a track record of success in household brands such as Danone, Kraft and BVA, Richard is currently in charge of the new APAC branch of BVA Nudge Unit based out of Singapore.



Samuel Salzer
Behavioral Design Hub

Behavioral designer, author and keynote speaker. Helping organizations create habit forming products. Curator for the popular newsletter