Tag Archives: Kennedy School

Healthy Food for All


You all know that Im a bit obsessed with food. Yes, occasionally I dream about it. After a semester at the Kennedy School my dreams have taken a different tack. Now I’m not just dreaming about eating food, but I’m dreaming about how everyone can have access to fresh and healthy food.

For those of us who live in more affluent areas near and in urban centers, we are fortunate to have access to an abundance of fresh meat, fruit, and vegetables. We can purchase items that are not mass produced by the six or seven massive conglomerates using an industrialized process to maximize yield, minimize price, and eliminate nutritional value.

As an example, here in Brookline, we have numerous shopping options ranging from large supermarkets to small specialty shops. Both options carry a wide range of healthy choices. Yet just three miles away, in Dorchester, the only options are small bodega like stores. These shops mainly carry processed foods such as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese or Manwich!! The few available fruits and vegetables are of inferior quality to what is available in Brookline. The true irony is that food costs more in our poorer neighborhoods than in affluent areas.

Now there are a lot of reasons for this and thankfully there are a number of ideas as to how we can fix this. Its important. Imagine not giving your loved ones healthy food every day and then sending them off to school to learn. Not having the right nutrition DOES negatively impact the ability to learn.

So here’s my loosely formed solution. I’d really like any of your thoughts or suggestions as to how to make this work. Or just tell me its plain crazy.

The solution involves the for profit sector, the not for profit sector, and in some cases the government sector.

Let us assume that most disadvantaged people still have access to the internet either at home or by mobile.

We can use large grocery chain’s (think Peapod) online capability we set up WIC/SNAP (food stamp) recipients to access online ordering and local delivery of groceries. This would also be open to non benefit recipients as well.

We know that Peapod will not deliver door to door in urban areas. My plan is to use local community centers as delivery/pick up points for groceries. Now grocers have an efficient drop point. This may incur some costs for appropriate storage and security but should be nominal.

The behavioral science aspect is when we access the want/should paradigm. We know that individuals tend to do what they should do as long as they are asked to do it in the future. We can encourage ordering by pricing food such that the further in advance people order, the lower the price of the groceries are. I would call this the Yodels/Broccoli paradigm. This combined with generally lower prices from large grocers will give consumers significant additional purchasing power.

This plan would attempt to encourage grocers to find additional ways to use pricing mechanisms to incentivize purchase of should items over want items. We know that gross margins at grocers are 25-30% so there is some ability to do this especially given the fact that these will be new customers (no cannibalization of existing sales).

Eventually, we would create capability to order pre portioned (but not pre cooked) meals delivered a week in advance. This would be of great help to lower income working families

Why do I think this will work:

– Solution involves government, non-profit, and profit sector

– Saves time for consumers who wont have to go to store

– Most people have computer or mobile access

– Grocers will see additional profit/market share oppty

– Easy to track via WIC/SNAP identifier

– Small capital costs (refrigerators in community centers)

– Long term health benefits

Again, its just an idea from a dream. I really would like to work on this but can use any help, ideas, or contacts that you may have.

Happy holidays………


I Think I Get it Now????

Don’t you just love it when it all comes together!!!! All semester I have felt somewhat overwhelmed by so many things here. The ideas, the people, the drinking, the workload. Now in the past week or two it all seems to be coming together. There are themes across my classes that seem to be interweaving. That is the case in most of my classes. A certain class that I blogged about last week is an entity unto itself and is likely to remain that way.

The big takeaways are not something I ever expected when I signed up for the Kennedy School. I assumed that we’d cover big thematic things like how to start a war, how to overthrow your government, or how to be a leader even if you aren’t one (not that any of that stuff remotely interests me!). What is actually happening is about data, process, and how you use it to influence people. The connections come from Power and Politics in the Digital Age, Strategic Management of NGO’s, and Behavioral Science.

This week we have been delving into to the political arena by looking at 4 political campaigns; Howard Dean in 2004, Harry Reid in 2010, and the transformative campaigns Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. There are many takeaways but simply put, technology has forever changed the way that political campaigns are run.

Lets start by the way that politicians raise money. Howard Dean’s campaign thought it was amazing when they raised $5 million in a month. Then four years later Barack Obama raised so much money online ($500million) that he was able to forgo federal campaign funding. Interestingly, like all candidates in the half-century preceding him, Obama spent this money on television to woo the electorate. More interestingly, were the methods that the Obama campaign used to raise that money. While email was and is the most effective means, the Obama campaign pioneered testing of messages in email, testing of messages and style on their website, and the many features of Web 2.0 by democratizing campaign messages and allowing people the ability to create groups. The 2008 campaign was notable in the sense that while the candidate has a message, many other messages were created and disseminated by others. Furthermore, the campaign used technology to identify people who could be leaders in the field effort. They did this by using “Foot In the Door” a behavioral science concept in which someone seeks ever increasing levels of commitment. This campaign has become a textbook case for NGO’s looking to build brand and fundraising capability. It also presages the advances that were about to come.

The Harry Reid Senatorial campaign took the use of technology to new heights. Now instead of just raising money on the Internet, Reid’s campaign had sophisticated targeting tools to identify voter preferences send targeted messages to voters. This sophisticated approach used multiple voter-targeted messages at just the right time. Once identified these voters were sent the same message again and again. Similar to the Obama campaign, the approach was founded on the Web 2.0 idea that user generated data was king.

This was just a warm up for the reelection campaign for Obama in 2012. This campaign built on everything learned to date but added lots of new twists. These twists were primarily driven by big data. The Obama campaign had developed the ability to know how every voter was likely to vote and therefore was able to target the voters that they wanted to reach with the message that was best suited to achieve the desired result. The campaign had such good data that it was able to use targeted television advertising, something that had never been done before. The campaign used many methods to get this information from surveys, tracking emails, and in some cases working with cable TV companies to get user level information on viewing habits. Set top boxes were full of this information. The campaign also became proficient in using behavioral science to conduct randomized experiments, test different messages for the same issue, and perhaps most importantly use concepts such as goal planning and accountability to drive the get out the vote effort.

While this was great for the Obama campaign, it and the Reid campaign raised serious privacy issues. One can argue that the Obama campaign’s work around to obtain data from set top boxes was a clear violation of privacy. To me it seems like it is. Now instead of just telling my daughters to be careful online, I need to tell them to be careful of what they watch!!

As for the get out the vote effort, while any effort to get out the vote is laudable, I wonder (at the risk of reprising a previous blog) if we should take all of the lessons of the Obama campaign, especially those that originate in the behavioral science space and have a non-partisan get out the vote effort. Making potential voters feel that they are being held accountable and having them make a plan to vote have clear and statistically significant impact on increasing voter turnout. Maybe that could help mitigate the effects of all of the special interest money and help to level the playing field.

So while Ive got more things running around my head than at anytime in many a year, I am beginning to see themes and paths. Right now they are still many but as the year goes along, I am hopeful that Ill be able to make sense of it, choose a path, and have an impact.

Excuse the Rant

Its a cold Friday Morning and I am sitting in a classroom with my fellow somnambulists. This is essentially the Kennedy School equivalent of a mandatory therapy session for substance abusers. Fortunately, this session actually makes you feel a bit better.

What the heck am I talking about?? 

We are in JP Chauvain’s review session for PED-130 Why are Some Countries Poor, Volatile, and Unequal (or Why are some MCMPA’s Tired, Frustrated, and Confused). Let me begin by saying that JP is awesome. He’s smart, a clear and concise lecturer, and he always has time to explain anything to anyone. He is the saving grace of this course.

This is a course that is part of a requirement and is very highly rated. I believe that is why so many of us are here. To be fair the topic is interesting and Professor Hausmann presents a very compelling theory of the Why.

The real issue is that the work load in this class is abusive. Last week we had a problem set that was worth 20% of our grade and I handed in 3700 words plus exhibits. This week we have another one and it will be 2500 words and worth 10%! of the grade.  In total there are 5 Problem Sets, a mid term and a Final Project. Now if this seems to be a bit aggressive, you can’t even begin to understand.

In order to successfully write these missives one must spend time with the data. Some of this data is in Beta. So not only are you negotiating long assignments, you need to get through data and technology in Beta form. Never has my Apple spent so much time with the little rainbow wheel spinning. I cant imagine what my Windows friends went through!!!! I estimate that for each hour writing, I spent 1.5-2 hours hacking around with the data.

The worst part about this is that I find that the actual learning from doing the work is minimal. To be fair this may be my pedagogical profile but Im sure that I am not alone. I have no issue staying up all night or not seeing my family to learn something. I do have issue with work for the sake of work.

Anyway, bottom line is that I didn’t come here to have one class dominate my semester to the detraction of others. This is what has happened. So when you give your reviews, think long and hard what your successors may see and how it will influence them.