The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

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    Engaged Communities

    Nudging the crowd in new directions can make our cities better

    July 2, 2015, 8:51 a.m., Posted by Andrew Sherry

    Photo by Tracy Russell on Flickr.

    A new tool is coming to the municipal playbook, behavioral science. It may sound like Big Brother or Mad Men manipulating the masses, but the applications are more prosaic: encourage recycling, college completion, energy savings, healthy eating, vaccinations.

    Chicago, one of the first cities to experiment with applying behavioral science to urban challenges, hosted a workshop this week with city officials and civic innovators from Miami, Philadelphia and San Jose, sponsored by Knight Foundation. Instructors included Richard Thaler, who literally wrote the book(s) on the subject, and his colleagues at ideas42, a consulting firm led by fully applied academics. Knight’s interest, besides supporting success in the 26 Knight communities, is in seeing how behavioral science can be applied to civic engagement, from voting to encouraging people of different income levels to frequent the same parks and public places.

    The premise is that human behavior is integral to every city challenge, even structural ones. And humans are not always rational actors: When we don’t have a deep conviction about something, we decide based on what we see in front of us a majority of the time. So how to put things in front of city residents that encourage them to act in their best interests, without threatening their freedom of choice?

    The workshop provided an introduction to behavioral science, and its practical applications city life. The context will likely resonate with readers of Knight Blog...

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    Engaged Communities

    'Knight Cities' podcast: Mining science to shift public behavior

    July 2, 2015, 8:50 a.m., Posted by Carol Coletta

    Knight Cities podcast

    Can behavioral science nudge us into better behavior?

    A growing number of government leaders think so. And they are being assisted by ideas42, a firm that uses behavioral science to design scalable solutions for social impact.  Our guest this week on “Knight Cities” is Ted Robertson, managing director at the firm. 

    Here are five things you should know from my conversation with Ted:

    1. Behavioral science is the science behind why people do what they do.

    2. There is often a gap between what people intend to do and what they actually do. Behavioral science can help with the redesign of services and products to reduce the “hassle factors” and other things that get in the way of following through on intentions.

    3. The more choices you offer, the less participation you'll get.

    4. People tend not to want to lose things more than they want to gain things. Also, people tend to overestimate low-probability situations and their own abilities.

    5. Governments are beginning to use behavioral science to get public behaviors that reduce public cost and improve quality of life, such as more recycling, less gun violence, more vaccinations.

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    Nick Cave exhibit launches in Detroit

    July 1, 2015, 4:30 p.m., Posted by Laura Mott

    Now through the fall, Detroit will become the backdrop for artist Nick Cave’s most ambitious project to date, including seven months of events and his first solo exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum, all funded by the Knight Arts Challenge. Here Cranbrook Curator Laura Mott writes about the launch of Cave’s exhibit at the museum, including his signature embellished costumes known as Soundsuits, which will be on display through Oct. 11. Photo credits: Sam Deitch/

    Nick Cave: Here Hear lived up to its celebratory title last weekend with the exhibition opening at Cranbrook Art Museum, the launch of the publication Nick Cave: Greetings From Detroit, the film screening at the historic Redford Theatre, and performances at The Artist Village. Whew!  Thanks to you Detroit, it was downright incredible.

    The soundsuit invasion photo shoots we staged last spring with Detroit-based photographer Corine Vermeulen are now exquisitely compiled into the large format postcard book Nick Cave: Greetings From Detroit — offering portraits of Cave’s soundsuits in Detroit that complement the city’s ingenuity, creativity and energy. Also along for the photo shoots were Detroit-based filmmakers Jamin Townsley and Andrew Miller, known as The Right Brothers. They have created an extraordinary video composition of the soundsuits in motion and a behind-the-scenes look at the creative process that is currently on display in the Museum’s “Map In Action” room – a gallery devoted to tracking the project’s reach into the city of Detroit. The video composition is a masterpiece in its own right, and will continue to grow in length and content as the upcoming performances are staged. The amazing quality of both speaks to the creative talent that exists in our city.

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