In November 2018, in association with behavioral design non-profit ideas42, the Center hosted the first Behavioral Cities Summit. Central to the convening were municipal leaders from six major North American cities—New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle, Washington, DC, and Durham, Ontario—who have established track-records using behavioral science insights and interventions to address their residents’ needs. They gathered with Princeton researchers and other applied behavioral scientists to start building a community of practice and share both tactical and strategic ideas across geographies.
City representatives shared day-to-day practicalities of how they have effectively (and less than effectively) used behavioral science methodologies to evaluate and affect change in municipal processes and services. Themes also emerged around scoping the work, managing external engagement and relations, and addressing sustainability challenges in the face of political cycles. The group identified capacity-building as a major area of concern for all city behavioral shops and an area in which academic partners may be able add value to these teams. In the day’s final session, participants brainstormed about ways that researchers and civil servants can find routes to pursue their independent goals in concert while maximizing each other’s comparative advantages.
Princeton researchers in attendance who are not yet involved in these collaborations gained a broader view of how their ideas can be applied in the city context and how to become involved. Additionally, the students in the Wilson School’s MPA program who were selected to take part in the day had the opportunity to see how behavioral science and policy intersect in meaningful ways. Discussions are underway with the first summit participants to determine next steps for sustaining and building this important community of practice.