Left to Right: Orsola Garofalo (University of Copenhagen), Menusch Khadjavi (University of Kiel), Marina Schröder (University of Cologne), Anya Samek (SPI / UW-Madison), Roel van Veldhuizen (WZB Berlin), Boris van Leeuwen (University of Toulouse), Karina Gose (University of Magdeburg) and Kristina Bott (Norwegian School of Economics).
Last week, SPI friend and sub-award winner Uri Gneezy (University of California – San Diego) organized the 2nd annual Conference on Experiments in Policy. I had the opportunity to attend and learn about exciting new research conducted by fellow academics. I presented recent work with my SPI friend and co-author David Reiley (Pandora) on reducing hassle costs in charitable giving (more on that in a later post).
SPI was also pleased to award 7 travel awards to young researchers to attend the conference, including awards to Roel van Veldhuizen (WZB Berlin), Marina Schroder (University of Cologne), Boris van Leeuwen (University of Toulouse), Menusch Khadjavi (University of Kiel), Karina Gose (University of Magdeburg), Orsola Garofalo (University of Copenhagen) and Kristina Bott (Norwegian School of Economics).
The young researchers also presented their papers. Boris van Leeuwen (University of Toulouse) presented a study on how competition for status can affect contributions to public goods. The study was conducted in the laboratory. Participants decided on how much they wanted to contribute to a public good themselves and which contributions of others they wanted to use. The main take-away of Boris’ work is that when status is associated with the use of public good investments, people will compete to be the one who provides the public good.
For practitioners or policy-makers, Boris’ work means that emphasizing status can increase public good contributions. One possible way to do this is by making the number of users more salient, for instance by providing access statistics on online platforms. However, when status rents and/or groups are very large, competition may be costly to the group. In this case, competition can become so intense, that people overinvest in the public good. A good example would be more people than optimal working on a crowd-sourced website like Wikipedia. As far as I see it, a big problem that online communities struggle with is how to increase contributions by members – and so far, I don’t see too much ‘over-competition’ happening in the real world. In summary then, online communities should think about doing more to encourage competition in providing public goods.
Menusch Khadjavi (University of Kiel) presented his study on the adverse effects of transparency in public policy, a collaboration with co-authors Andreas Lange and Andreas Nicklisch from the University of Hamburg, Germany. Menusch’s idea was to conduct a laboratory environment mimicking a real-world setting to understand what kinds of policies deter embezzlement by beurocrats – where the money embezzled comes from voluntary contributions by citizens.
Menusch’ and co-authors’ study points out possible disadvantages of transparency in public policy when bureaucrats cannot be sanctioned (sufficiently). They argue that this may be the case in democratic and especially authoritarian states, e.g. due to inflexible government employment. Having a bad reputation as a bureaucrat may be accepted more easily if embezzlement is profitable and inevitably detected due to transparency, i.e. when hiding embezzlement is not possible.
Menusch concluded that for policy-makers, this means that there is a need to advocate good governance in which both transparency and accountability are introduced side-by-side, as transparency alone is not a sufficient instrument for fighting corruption - in fact, their study finds that transparency alone may undermine good governance.
It was great for SPI to fund these great researchers and participate in the 2nd Annual Conference on Experiments in Policy. If these talks sound intriguing, then be sure to put September 11-12th 2015 on your calendar, and come to the University of Chicago for SPI’s 3rd annual conference to learn more about the work our researchers are doing.