Nudge Studies in Action

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Here are just a few examples of how MITRE's Nudge Lab is moving the world in the right direction—one small decision at a time.

  • +Pennsylvania Department of Revenue

    The Challenge: Increasing Voluntary Taxpayer Compliance 
    Finding cost-effective ways to increase voluntary taxpayer compliance is an important priority for the IRS and state tax administrators. Small increases in voluntary compliance can translate into millions of dollars in revenue.

    The Nudge. To increase compliance, the MITRE Nudge Team created a new, second delinquency reminder notice specifically for businesses. The notice highlights the actions businesses need to take to reach compliance, consequences if they do not act, and steps to take next. The letter conveys urgency by adding an “ACT NOW!” stamp. Some recipients also received handwritten notes on the envelope, which can increase the likelihood that respondents open the letter.

    The Impact. In collaboration with the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, MITRE conducted a field experiment and found the nudge interventions significantly increased the number of business owners who responded and the amount of delinquency they paid. Adding a handwritten note on the outside of the envelope didn't significantly increase response rates or payment amount.

    Although the effect sizes observed in this study were small, the potential impact is large, given the number of delinquent businesses and the average amount of taxes owed in Pennsylvania. Further details are available in the Journal of Behavioral Public Administration, which published the team's study in July 2020.

  • +Boston Children's Hospital

    The Challenge: Reducing Delayed Hospital Discharge Without Affecting Health Outcomes
    As a busy urban research and teaching hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital is urgently seeking ways to accommodate patients more efficiently. Among the issues is the longstanding problem of delayed patient discharges. They increase hospital costs and limit new patients’ access to beds.

    The Nudge. The MITRE Nudge Team is working with Boston Children's staff to reduce delayed discharge of patients in high-demand units. Patient and caregiver decisions and actions play a noticeable part in patient discharge speed. We identified key caregiver decision points that can affect the time it takes for a child to be discharged.

    We developed a poster to guide caregivers through a complicated set of actions required before children can head home. The poster was displayed prominently in patients’ hospital rooms for the duration of their stay.

    The Impact. MITRE and Boston Children's conducted a field experiment to test the impact of this nudge. Our poster successfully nudged caregivers by increasing:

    • Awareness of medications needed.
    • Ability to use new home medical equipment.
    • Willingness to use the patient portal.
    • Feelings of readiness/preparedness to transition home.
    • Confidence in caring for the child after discharge.

    Empowering patients and caregivers to prepare for discharge in advance may lead to quicker patient discharges. That would in turn reduce patient costs and open beds for new patients. 

    This study is currently being replicated for adults at Massachusetts General Hospital and will be published in Journal of Patient Experience (in press).

  • +A Major American Automotive Company

    The Challenge: Getting Car Owners to Respond to Safety Recalls
    The number of vehicles affected by safety defect recalls increased sharply in recent years—from nearly 13 million in 2011 to more than 51 million in 2016. While the automotive manufacturers want to improve vehicle safety recall completion rates, they can't force car owners to repair their vehicles. Recalls are voluntary and depend on the owner’s decisions to comply.

    The Nudge. The MITRE team is partnering with a large American automotive manufacturer to improve compliance rates. The plan is to understand motivations and impediments related to recall, and design nudges to increase the likelihood that automobile owners will get their vehicle serviced.

    The Impact. The goal of the nudges will be to increase compliance rates. The impact of doing so will increase the safety of vehicles, which can lead fewer accidents, lower insurance costs, and saved lives. (In progress.)

  • +COVID-19 Pandemic

    The Challenge: Increasing Small Business Participation in COVID-19 Tax Relief Programs
    The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on small business owners is substantial. Small businesses often have few resources to draw on during a slowdown, and many have been forced to close by public health measures. A National Federation of Independent Businesses survey found that the disease outbreak has negatively affected 76% of small businesses.

    The Nudge. Partnering with the IRS’s Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), MITRE created a simple, clear one-page overview of COVID-19 tax programs available to small business and created a user-friendly eligibility calculator on the TAS website. The one-page flyer can stand alone or be used in combination with the eligibility tool.

    The Impact. TAS and MITRE are targeting specific small business industries (such as construction and restaurants) and plan to measure the reach of the message and potential increases in program participation. (In progress.)


    The Challenge: Improving People’s Hygiene Compliance to Slow the Virus Spread 
    Slowing down the spread of the virus depends on people complying with good hygiene practices (such as washing hands, wearing a mask, physical distancing, and avoiding large crowds).

    Humans have evolved to focus on the here and now, which makes it hard for us to prioritize long-term consequences over short-term benefits. Predictably, despite urgent pleas from health and government officials, many people ignore the warnings. 

    The Nudge. Nudge Lab is creating targeted digital products and physical posters that compactly and visually communicate key behavioral actions people can take to slow the spread of the virus.

    The Impact. The messaging will remind people to implement best practices to protect themselves and others. (In progress.)


    The Challenge: Helping Restock Our Nation’s Food Banks
    The COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn have resulted in a historic rise in demand for food relief. Many people need a temporary helping hand for the first time (people who have recently lost a job or are helping a sick family member). However, food banks don’t have enough resources to serve the spike in demand. 

    The Nudge. We created an internal food bank donation portal, MITRE Gives. The portal makes it easier for our employees to contribute money to support local food banks facing strain from pandemic-induced demand.

    The Impact. MITRE Gives encourages employee civic and community involvement across  our 50 domestic office locations. This portal was created with the intent of serving food banks in the areas where MITRE employees live and work. (In progress.)

  • +Pennsylvania Lottery

    The Challenge: Reducing Supply Chain Waste
    The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue sought to eliminate waste in the PA Lottery supply chain. MITRE partnered with the PA Department of Revenue and discovered that lottery retailers were often ordering too many packs of scratch-off tickets—far more than they sold. This resulted in a significant amount of waste from overproduction, returns, and destruction of lottery scratch-off tickets.

    The Nudge. Working with the Pennsylvania Lottery and its partner, Scientific Games, MITRE identified a nudge: reduce the pack size of $1 scratch-off games, from 300 to 100 tickets per pack. Providing a smaller pack size allowed retailers more precision in their orders and the potential to minimize ticket returns, while preserving retailers' freedom to choose the amount to order.

    The Impact. A comparative analysis from 2016 to 2019 demonstrated that the reduced package size significantly decreased partial ticket returns. If this change becomes standard across the PA Lottery game line-up, it can significantly reduce inventory management costs for the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue.

  • +U.S. Census Bureau

    The Challenge: Boost Response Rate for Two Key Surveys
    The U.S. Census Bureau conducts more than 130 surveys each year and faces the challenge of declining public participation. High response rates are key to obtaining accurate data. Repeated attempts to reach respondents are extremely costly, especially for in-person surveys.

    The Nudge. The MITRE Nudge Team partnered with the Census Bureau to boost survey response rates for two surveys—the 2019 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and the 2019 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH). For the NHIS survey, MITRE redesigned the notice letter to increase clarity, attention, ease of understanding, and awareness of recipient actions. For the NSCH survey, MITRE redesigned the envelope, making use of past research insights, to increase ease of understanding, attention, and clarity.

    The Impact. The goal of these nudges was to increase the rate at which recipients open envelopes and respond to the surveys. By providing the Census Bureau with more accurate data, the government can make more informed policy decisions, including allocating government resources to target populations. Improved response rates will also reduce costs of survey administration.

Learn more about MITRE's Nudge Lab.