White House Teamwork Pays Off

President Obama meets with SBST members in the Oval Office. Lori Foster is second from right. (White House photo by Pete Souza.)

When President Obama signed an executive order directing federal agencies to use behavioral science insights to better serve the American people, NC State psychology professor Lori Foster was proudly standing by. As a member of the White House’s Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, or SBST, Foster contributed to work that formed the basis for the order.

As an expert in industrial and organizational psychology, Foster studies how organizations and their employees function. She’s worked with large organizations for more than 15 years, from the military and United Nations to power utilities and international non-governmental organizations.

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.

The small multi-disciplinary team of experts has been working with federal agencies over the last year, thinking creatively about how to translate social and behavioral science insights into concrete interventions that are likely to help agencies reach their institutional goals, and designing rigorous field trials to test the impact of these recommendations.

A recently released report features the team’s first year of projects, which have made government programs easier to access and more user friendly, and have boosted program efficiency and integrity.

“As a result of these projects, more service members are saving for retirement, more students are going to college, more veterans are accessing their benefits, more farmers are obtaining credit, and more families are gaining healthcare coverage,” said Maya Shankar, senior adviser for the social and behavioral sciences at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Building on the past year of successes, SBST is launching 20 new projects in the coming year, ranging from helping children retain access to nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches, to providing unemployed workers with enhanced job-search support.

“We are proud to have Lori Foster represent our university — and our state — and to share her expertise in ways that will improve lives across the country for years to come,” said Jeff Braden, dean of humanities and social sciences. “Our college, along with the provost’s office and our Department of Psychology, all worked together so that Lori could be part of building and shaping this new federal initiative. We are so pleased to see the work of the team already bearing fruit.”

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