What is the Best Organizational Model for Implementing Behavioral Science?

During a recent conversation about user interface design and the differences in approach compared to behavioral science, the topic quickly turned to a question about what is the best organizational model for implementing behavioral science?

While behavioral science has been on the rise worldwide, the organizational model is still an important, unresolved question. Should the function sit within marketing? Within the user experience team? As a separate Behavioral Science Officer or Office of Behavioral Science to make the quality high and initiatives vivid? Or perhaps the behavioral science function should lie within the product team? Maybe within the digital strategy group?

In my work with Digitai in the past year, I’ve done work with companies in countries like Australia, Germany, Spain, UK, and the US. Although anecdotal, I’ve seen significant (albeit still emerging) activity with setting up behavioral science initiatives which go beyond pure marketing and are attached to innovation. This inherently requires more cross-functional integration of behavioral science with other existing functions within a company. Furthermore, this sometimes means helping to elevate the sophistication of the innovation ecosystem. This might include new technology partnerships, partnerships with researchers from the scientific community, and upgrades to a company’s testing and production platforms.

Yet while I have worked across many types of companies in the behavioral science area, it’s been somewhat skewed toward large companies with some increasing activity in the middle-market company space (e.g., which see the potential to disrupt the market by leveraging behavioral science principles). What about other companies that have more modest aspirations or resources compared to the large companies that are committed to more substantial investments?

The answer to that would need to be addressed separately to be responsible, but it does brings me back to the original question, which is “what is the best organizational structure for implementing behavioral science?” The key to answering this question is to think about strategy and goals first and then to design the organizational structure to fit the strategy. If your strategy is to innovate, then you may need a model that allows for a lot of cross-function interactions both within and outside of the company. You might want a behavioral science officer and an advisory board. If your efforts are focused mostly on marketing, then you might be fine with a simpler model and hiring or assigning some specialists to the department. If resources are even more limited, then perhaps the solution could include occasional use of outside resources, some training, or use of some do-it-yourself thinking tools (e.g., checklists and things to think about for behavioral science). A key to implementing behavioral science initiatives is to really think about strategy and goals first. Then you can think about the predominant organizational model that you’d like to follow plus any elements that might help with implementation.

Think strategy first, then tactics.

Readers of this post might also be interested in the following short video on implementing behavioral science initiatives