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California’s water conservation efforts: Considerations from a behavioral perspective

The hot summer months are known to plague the western states of the U.S. with drought.  California’s State Water Resources Board attempted to address the problem this summer by issuing state-wide water conservation mandates.  Throughout the months of June through September, the board set cumulative water use reduction goals for individual cities and districts with fines for those who did not meet their goal.  A water use reduction goal of 36% was set for the Coachella Valley Water District.  The board set water reduction goals of 32%, 32%, and 36% for the cities of Indio, Beverly Hills, and Redlands respectively.

Last week, the board issued fines of $61,000 each to the Coachella Valley Water District, and the cities of Indio, Beverly Hills, and Redlands as a penalty for not meeting their water reduction goals.   Responses from residents and business owners, as well as local officials within the areas, reflected discontent toward the mandates and resulting fines.  Constituents felt that their efforts to conserve water had been ignored.  In fact, water consumption data for the fined areas indicated that the areas initially conserved more water during the beginning of the summer.  However, water conservation efforts appeared to decrease throughout the summer.


Data from California State Water Resources Control Board

Given the importance of water conservation during dry summer months and information regarding the State Water Resources Board’s current attempts to increase water conservation, what are some things the board could consider doing differently next summer?

  • The water resources board attempted to punish wasteful water use within individual cities. When using punishment procedures, one must consider the potential negative side effects and how to address them.  One potential effect of the fining system is resistance to the policy. Residents might be less cooperative when they feel as if they have no options.
  • Punishment procedures require consistent implementation to be effective. In this case, resources could not permit the cities to closely monitor the actions of city residents to consistently enforce the water restriction rules.
  • One must also keep in mind what other events might compete with a proposed punishment procedure. It might be the case that reinforcers for the liberal us of water override the proposed punisher.
  • Issuing strict fines, despite the presence of some progress might result in adverse effects. The distribution of fines, while ignoring a city’s demonstrated water conservation efforts might discourage cities from attempting to comply with future mandates.  As an alternative approach, the board could set monthly water consumption reduction goals and offer incentives when those goals have been met.  The percent reduction of water consumption goal could gradually increase each month to encourage increased water conservation efforts over time.   Perhaps the depicted decreasing trend in water consumption would have looked a little different if strategies aimed at reinforcing water consumption were used.

Can you think of any other strategies California’s State Water Resources Board might use to encourage the residents of California to conserve more water?  Leave a comment below and stay tuned for more from BAM Network.

Behavioral strategies to increase health insurance enrollment

Health insurance form with stethoscopeNovember 1st marks the third year of open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act’s federal healthcare exchange. The Affordable Care Act was created to make quality healthcare more affordable, thus more accessible to the general public. Its primary goal is to increase health insurance coverage among eligible individuals. Enrollment in select health insurance plans (via an online health plan marketplace) is made more affordable with the use of income-based tax credits that can be applied toward monthly health plan premiums. Eligible individuals are also encouraged to obtain some form of health coverage (e.g., through the marketplace, employer, or privately), as those who opt out may receive a tax penalty.

The use of income-based tax credits and tax penalties have been a part of the program since its launch in 2013. However new strategies have been arranged to increase enrollment for 2016. For example, the site is projected to be faster and easier to use. It will include a calculator tool to help consumers assess total out-of-pocket expenses across various plans. Eligibility and tax credit information will be immediately accessible, so consumers can use the information to further assess the cost of various health plans. Information about covered doctors and prescriptions are also set to be included to help consumers choose the health plan that best meets their needs.

This federal healthcare exchange is packed full of behavioral strategies to increase consumer enrollment in the health insurance plans provided by its system. Let’s pick out some of them for discussion!

  • The plan is designed to reduce the monthly cost of the consumer’s health insurance. This sounds like an antecedent manipulation in response effort. It makes it easier to pay for/access the health insurance.
  • There is a tax penalty for opting out/not signing up. This is an attempt to negatively punish opting out (by taking away some of your money).
  • The site will be faster and easier to use. Here’s another response effort manipulation. Consumers are more likely to enroll if the process is as easy as possible.
  • The inclusion of an out-of-pocket expense calculator, immediate access to tax credit information, and information about covered doctors and medications are also antecedent manipulation strategies that will help consumers select the most appropriate health insurance plans. The inclusion of these features makes it more likely that consumers will contact the relevant reinforcers (i.e., health care plans that meets their needs) for enrolling in health plans. When health care enrollment is reinforced, the consumer is more likely to maintain coverage throughout the year and re-enroll next year.

The Affordable Care Act and the federal healthcare exchange enrollment system have incorporated both antecedent and consequence-based behavioral strategies aimed at increasing the number of individuals with health insurance. The use of these strategies represents how behavioral technologies might improve consumer access to quality healthcare via their application in the administration of healthcare policies.

Have you noticed the implementation of behavioral strategies into other policies that directly affect you? Tell us about it and keep an eye out for more discussions from BAM Network.

A behavior analytic supervisor exhibits expertise in your area

When seeking a behavior analytic supervisor, we suggest that you look for a MENTOR. The second characteristic of an excellent supervisor is:

Exhibits expertise in your area of interest.

Diverse Hands Holding The Word Expertise

You might be thinking that all Board Certified Behavior Analysts have similar training and it might not be necessary for your supervisor to have experience in your specific area of interest. It is true that all courses approved by the Behavior Analytic Certification Board (BACB) must include and allocate specific amounts of time to certain instructional topics. However, the objectives defined by the BACB (and represented by the Fourth Edition Task List) represent the backbone of a behavior analyst’s repertoire. Nuances exist in the delivery and implementation of specific skills based on the area of behavior analytic practice and demographics of particular client populations. The area of behavior analytic practice will dictate, for example, the types of assessment procedures used, the best measurement systems, and even the arrangement and delivery of reinforcers. A supervisor with experience in your area of interest will have hands on knowledge of the specific skills relevant to behavior analytic practice in that area.

Let’s discuss how to determine if a supervisor exhibits expertise in your area of interest. For starters, the supervisor’s background should reflect professional activities relevant to your interests. Professional activities may include one’s education, training, supervised experience, work history, and/or research history. Keep in mind that a supervisor’s professional background is just one indication of experience. The experiences of a quality supervisor will also reflect recent activities related to your area. You might quickly assess a supervisor’s more recent activities by looking at what the supervisor is presently doing. Projects and activities the supervisor has recently completed should also be considered.

When evaluating a supervisor’s experience, it is also important to look for evidence that a supervisor has stayed current in regards to relevant professional skills. Supervisors should be reading the professional literature, participating in workshops and training activities, and/or attending conferences. Best practices in behavior analysis change over time as science guides the use of more effective procedures. Your supervisor should be aware of scientific information relevant to her professional area and should seek training as necessary to maintain competence with her professional skills.

With the help of BAM Network, you have come one step closer to identifying a high quality supervisor. More details on the remaining four characteristics are soon to come!

A behavior analytic supervisor measures your skills


In the previous post, we listed six characteristics to look for in a high quality behavior analytic supervisor.  We believe that a great supervisor is an excellent MENTOR.  Now that you know what to look for, we want to help you find a supervisor with these skills.  Let’s start with the first characteristic:

Measures your skills through demonstrated competencies.

MeasurementYou may wonder why this is important.  First, let’s look at the alternative: a supervisor could simply ask you to describe what you’ve done and what you’re doing.  It may be that during your
meetings, she asks you to talk about your experience and why you selected the interventions you did.  She may provide you with questions to answer, and even written exams.  None of these things are wrong – but we assert they are simply not enough.  The entire point of supervision is to learn how to do what you will be doing in your career.  It is unlikely that your day to day job will require that you answer questions and describe why/how you are choosing the interventions.  Rather, your job involves observing, measuring, and making hypotheses about the functional relations that show up with your consumers.  In addition to the verbal behavior involved in discussing what you are planning, there are some things you’ll do (especially when you’re working directly with a consumer) that go beyond what can be captured by verbal statements.  Some examples could be whether you get your timing right with a reinforcement or pairing procedure.  Missing the right moment, even by a small amount, can really unravel your plans.  While you may be able to tell me that you will deliver a stimulus immediately after the targeted response – Are you actually able to do it?  It is the latter that is the critical feature of supervised experience.

Finding the right supervisor

How can you determine if your supervisor will in fact measure the skills she is targeting?  For starters, your supervisor must observe you engaging in these behavior analytic activities.  So when you’re speaking with a potential supervisor, ask her what the experience would look like and see how often she will be actually observing your behavior analytic repertoire.  At minimum, a supervisor might stop there and not do much more.  Hopefully, your supervisor will turn each observation into a learning opportunity by measuring the skill she is observing, and providing you with specific praise and corrective feedback on your performance.  When addressing a skill that has not yet been observed, a supervisor may ask you to talk about the skill.

What does it look like?

To recap, when a supervisor is measuring your competencies, the supervisor will:

  • Watch you perform specific skills.
  • Note and record specific components of a skill that were done correctly, as well as the components that were implemented with errors.
  • Deliver specific feedback on your performance.
  • Teach a skill and/or demonstrate the correct implementation of a skill when errors are present.
  • Require you to repeat a skill until it has been performed with minimal to no errors.
  • Reassess performance at a later date to ensure that a skill has been retained.
  • Provide a quantified assessment of your repertoire
  • Track your growth in mastered competencies

This, in combination with the other skills, will allow you to develop the behavior analytic repertoire to be more than just a technician, but a bonafide sophisticated behavior analyst.  This is what our field needs, and your consumers deserve!

You are now equipped with information to identify and demand one of six excellent supervisor characteristics.  Keep an eye out for more posts, as BAM Network provides details on the remaining five!  We are working diligently to develop a system which guarantees that all of our supervisors will deliver this kind of experience to all of our supervisees.  Ask us more about how you may fit into this vision!

How to select a behavior analytic supervisor

The word Mentor in magazine letters on a notice boardYou have settled on a career – you want to be a positive change in people’s lives.  You’ve chosen to become a behavior analyst. Congratulations, you have selected the best profession to join, and are likely going to find yourself in an extremely fulfilling career.

As you begin your journey toward board certification in behavior analysis, you will be faced with decisions that can have a significant impact on your career. You’ve begun your coursework and may have secured an experience setting. Yet your most important decision remains:  who will provide you with the supervision to develop your repertoire into a solid, independent practitioner? If you work in a setting with on-staff BCBAs, this may not be a difficult decision to make.  Your supervisor is built into the equation.  However, if you do not already have access to a behavior analyst, you may feel ill-equipped to find a high quality supervisor. We are here to provide some direction!

First off, let’s get the bare minimum out of the way:  minimum requirements that your supervisor must possess are specified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board:

  • All supervisors must hold a current BCBA or BCBA-D in good standing.
  • Supervisors must complete an 8 hour Behavior Analytic Certification Board (BACB) approved training course.
  • Supervisors must have completed the BACB’s supervisor training module.
  • Supervisors must adhere to section 5.0 of the BACB Compliance Code.

But this is your career!  You don’t want the bare minimum. You should demand excellence!  We believe that an excellent supervisor is a top notch MENTOR.  This means that your supervisor:

M– Measures your skills through demonstrated competencies.

E – Exhibits expertise in your area of interest.

N – Navigates you through a competency-based & structured curriculum.

T – Tests your behavioral repertoire at the onset to identify strengths/weaknesses.

O – Offers ongoing collaboration after the supervised experience has ended.

R – Reinforces the skills necessary to build your clinical repertoire.

Finding a MENTOR is not impossible

Over the next few weeks, BAMnetwork will describe each of these characteristics and provide more detail on how you can identify someone that possesses this repertoire.  We are eager to help you begin the journey that will culminate in one of the most satisfying careers available.

Stay tuned for more posts!

Business and You

Employees Concept with Word on Folder.While most behavior analysts receive copious training on clinical topics (i.e., assessment, measurement, treatment, etc.) relatively few learn tactics to impact employee behavior. This is troublesome when one considers the role of a masters-level behavior analyst. Most behavior analysts find themselves overseeing a group of direct care staff members who implement their behavior programs. This puts behavior analysts in a tricky position, they must be able to measure and influence employee behavior, but receive little or no training in this discipline when they were preparing to be clinicians. Fortunately, because we practice a science of behavior, what governs the behavior of our clients also governs the behavior of our employees. From that point-of-view we can then imagine that any problem with employees can be defined, measured, influenced by environmental manipulations, and resolved in a manner that is equitable for the company, the supervisors, and the employee. Organizational Behavior Management (also known as Performance Management) has an articulated set of procedures for accomplishing just such a task.