From Theory to Frameworks: Putting Behavioral Science to Work

Republished from The Decision Lab. The Decision Lab is a behavioural science consultancy dedicated to creating social good by helping individuals, organisations, and governments make better decisions. I am a Staff Columnist for The Decision Lab. Subscribe here for the applied behavioural insights newsletter.

Original article published here.

In my very first class during my Masters in Behavioral Science, our professor wrote in capital letters on the whiteboard: “CONTEXT MATTERS.” I still have my notes from the class where I doodled around these two words, not really understanding the gravity or the reasoning behind why this was being emphasized.

Cut to now. A few weeks ago, the entire world of behavioral science was shaken when a blog made startling revelations about the validity of some high-profile research in behavioral science. [1] But that’s not even the first time the field has been called out. The replication crisis has bogged us down for years. [2] Yet, somehow, when I read these articles, my main response is not alarm, but rather the conviction that my doodle drawing of “Context Matters” from so many years ago really was correct.

The reason I say that is because being an applied behavioral scientist basically means all the research we do starts from scratch, irrespective of replicability or conclusive laboratory results. Each analysis is in a completely new context, and possibly with a completely different audience.

How then do we make use of all this academic literature? What’s the point of academic literature if it fails in a different context? How do we make sense of what works and what doesn’t?

Frameworks to the rescue