Ways to relieve pressure on people in poverty.

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation-


Cut the cost: using behavioral insights for reintegration into the labour martket

This workshop focuses on the question: how can social professionals stimulate labour market participation? In doing so, we take into account that unemployed people often experience poverty.

The majority of poverty alleviation efforts flow from a capital deficit model of poverty and are designed to provide or supplement capital of one kind or another. In this workshop we pose that their efficacy is being suboptimal because of a few key misunderstandings about human psychology and behavior:
- People underestimate the effect of context on the way humans form intentions, make decisions, and move to action.
- Awareness and information alone are generally insufficient to change behavior.
- Behavioral (in)action is often understood as an outcome of the equation of financial costs and benefits , but this view underestimates the influence of practical hassles (e.g., transportation time, finding a babysitter difficult application procedures).
Taking a behavioral approach means beginning with the propositions that context matters, that awareness does not guarantee action, and that both monetary and non-monetary costs and benefits drive decisions. Poverty itself is a context that elicits a set of natural and predictable responses.

Emerging research has shown that living in poverty means living in chronic scarcity—and scarcity comes with a set of cognitive consequences that may be beneficial or adaptive in the short term but highly deleterious when experienced chronically. Scarcity, or a lack of any key resource (e.g., time, food, or money), leads to a tendency of the brain to “tunnel”: whatever is most urgent, whatever unmet need is most pressing, fully “captures” the mind and crowds out all other concerns, questions, or tasks that would otherwise compete for attention. Temporarily, this laser-like focus can be useful—it’s what enables you to focus when time is scarce, but nobody can afford to tunnel all the time. On the long run, this focus takes up to much of the limited “bandwidth” of our brains. Other important (though not quite imperative) things will inevitably get neglected.

So, if we understand poverty as a form of chronic scarcity that shapes behavior in predictable ways, how
should we respond? We must first acknowledge that many anti-poverty programs are structured in ways
that are counterproductive by requiring too much bandwidth. To remedy this, programs need to make it easier for people to act in accordance with their best intentions. Unfortunately, many poverty alleviation programs actually drive up the various costs of poverty, often because accessing these programs requires significant investments of time and mental energy on the part of participants. Behavioral science suggests that programs will maximize their impact by simplifying, streamlining, and generally making things easier for their constituents.

In this workshop we will further discuss this behavioral approach of poverty and explore how reintegration programs could reduce the cognitive and temporal costs of poverty in a brainstorm session.
Period7 Jun 2016
Event titleSummerschool social work
Event typeWorkshop
LocationAmsterdam, Netherlands
Degree of RecognitionInternational