New UVA Research Lab Develops Scalable Strategies to Tackle Large Societal Problems

The Nudge4 Solutions Lab, a new lab at the University of Virginia, has as its mission to create and rigorously evaluate solutions to some of our society's biggest challenges and then scale evidence-based strategies on a national scale.

In 2016, the lab's director, Ben Castleman, assistant professor of education and policy at UVA's Curry School of Education and Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, joined forces with then First Lady Michelle Obama's office to utilize a text-messaging based intervention to provide young Americans with information and reminders about college, financial aid, and loan repayment. Combined with parallel projects with The Common Application and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Castleman and colleagues reached over one million students with timely information about important college and financial aid decisions and resources.

"Within 5 years we were able to test and show the success of a relatively inexpensive solution that significantly impacted students' success in college, and then scale this strategy to reach more than a million students across the country," Castleman said.

The goal of the Nudge4 Solutions Lab is to leverage technology, data science, and behavioral insights in similarly creative ways to develop scalable solutions in education, workforce development, criminal justice, and veterans affairs.

"With partners ranging from school districts and higher education systems to criminal justice facilities, state workforce commissions, and the United States Army, we are able to combine the expertise and insights our partners have in the field with the design and analytic experience our team brings," Castleman said. "Enhancing these robust partnerships with an understanding of how people navigate complex decisions, the latest interactive technologies, creative design, and robust analytic approaches, we believe we can move the needle on some of today's most significant challenges."

Current projects underway at the lab include the following:

Tablet-Based Intervention to Reduce Summer Learning Loss: In partnership with a large school district in Virginia, Nudge4 and education policy doctoral student Katharine Meyer is developing innovative, tablet-based strategies to encourage summer reading among elementary school students. This project connects with students via district-provided iPads, and provides encouragement, advice, and reminders to engage in meaningful reading during the summer months.

Improving Prisoner Re-Entry Outcomes: Nudge4  affiliate Jennifer Doleac, an economist at the Batten School, and Castleman are partnering with an educational technology company to design, implement, and evaluate innovative approaches to improve prisoners' employment prospects and the overall stability of their transition back into society.

Statewide Instagram Campaign to Improve College Success: In partnership with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Nudge4 affiliates Jeff Denning, an economist at BYU, and Cait Lamberton, a consumer psychologist at the Katz School of Business, and Black Sheep Agency, a creative design firm in Houston, TX, we are designing a statewide Instagram campaign that leverages behaviorally-informed visuals to prompt students to apply for financial aid and engage in academic habits associated with collegiate success.

Personalized Job Matches for Displaced Workers: Nudge4  affiliate Andrew Barr, an economist at Texas A&M University, and Castleman are leveraging data science strategies and behaviorally-informed communication to provide displaced workers with prompts and personalized information to help them locate work and/or training opportunities in their communities that are well-matched to their prior experience.

Ben Castleman can be reached at [email protected]

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About EdPolicyWorks
The Nudge4 Solutions Lab is part of EdPolicyWorks (also known as the Center on Education Policy and Workforce Competitiveness), a joint collaboration between the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education and the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy bringing together researchers from across the University of Virginia and the State to focus on important questions of educational policy and implications for the workforce.