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Pilot Partnership for Behavioral Science, Design, & Evidence

Posted on September 2, 2020


pilot partnership

This article is by ELGL member Michael Halford, Assistant County Manager for Gaston County, NC.


Gaston County Government is working with Duke University’s Center for Advanced Hindsight (CAH) and NC State University’s  College of Design to form a pilot partnership of local governments interested in applying behavioral science, good design, and evidence to strengthen their COVID-19 responses.

The partnership’s goal is to help communities, particularly those without substantial communications resources, open more quickly and safely by blending public health expertise, human-centered design, applied behavioral science research, and effective design to enhance local COVID-19 strategies, interventions, and public information campaigns by increasing their residents’ voluntary compliance with public health guidance.

Benefits will include:

  • Initial assessments of current strategies, interventions, and communication efforts and recommendations on how to increase their potential effectiveness through the incorporation of evidence-based behavioral science insights and design.
  • A better understanding of local COVID-19 sentiment and behavior (de)motivators regarding public health guidance through (virtual) community surveys and focus groups, particularly in communities at elevated risk of contracting the virus.
  • Immediately deployable practical and tangible communication materials and intervention strategies, backed by local research, prototype testing, and best practices in behavioral science and design. Designed in partnership with NC College of Design.  (Local govs would foot the bill for their own printing, media buys, distribution, etc.)
  • Weekly, dedicated support meetings with university partners for each county or municipality to address questions, progress, and areas of immediate need.
  • Intensive research into, and recommendations regarding, additional key areas of concern or interest identified by program participants, delivered through periodic calls, webinars, and policy briefs and informed by existing evidence, as well as exploratory and field research.
  • Access to a dedicated Slack Channel Network for continuous communication and collaboration with the university teams and other program participants

The partnership is expected to last 6 months.  Though we are most interested in current and evolving COVID-19-related messaging and interventions, the learning and networking that will occur can be applied indefinitely and across local government operations.

Duke’s CAH is offering a substantial discount from its normal fee structure to partner with local government in this project.  The cost per local government is $25,000, so just under $4,200 per month for access to top-notch resources and expertise.

Since this will help refine our public health communication and overall response strategy, Gaston County intends to use a portion of its CARES Act allocation to fund its share.  Though state guidelines may vary across the country, I suspect other local governments could use CARES Act funds, as well.

Several North Carolina counties and cities in our area have signed on, but we need help closing the gap and filling the final three participant slots to get the partnership off the ground.

I’d like to see if there is any interest from ELGL members in other parts of the country to be a part of the pilot group.  The idea has certainly drawn attention in NC given its non-traditional approach and university/local gov cooperation, so I’m guessing the concept might pique the interest of some ELGLers.

Interested in learning more? Contact Michael!

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