Behavioral planning: Improving behavioral design with “roughly right” foresight


  • Ruth Schmidt Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology
  • Katelyn Stenger Convergent Behavioral Science Initiative, University of Virginia



Many challenges emerging from the current COVID-19 pandemic are behavioral in nature, which has prompted the field of behavioral design to propose solutions for issues as wide-ranging as hand-washing, wearing masks, and the adoption of new norms for staying and working from home. On the whole, however, these behavioral interventions have been somewhat underwhelming, exposing an inherent brittleness that comes from three common “errors of projection” in current behavioral design methodology: projected stability, which insufficiently plans for the fact that interventions often function within inherently unstable systems; projected persistence, which neglects to account for changes in those system conditions over time; and projected value, which assumes that definitions of success are universally shared across contexts. Borrowing from strategic design and futures thinking, a new proposed strategic foresight model—behavioral planning—can help practitioners better address these system-level, anticipatory, and contextual weaknesses by more systematically identifying potential forces that may impact behavioral interventions before they have been implemented. Behavioral planning will help designers more effectively elicit signals indicating the emergence of forces that may deform behavioral interventions in emergent COVID-19 contexts, and promote “roughly right” directional solutions at earlier stages in solution development to better address system shifts.






Reflections on the design processes adopted in response to the pandemic crisis