The crowd-out effect

One of the key aspects of any collective intelligence initiative (using crowdsourcing, open innovation, etc.) is the incentives or rewards issue. After all, they suppose the impulse, the motivation, that will make a person decide to participate or not in that initiative.

As has been mentioned in other posts, if external incentives are provided, we can speak about extrinsic motivation. If we do not give anything but we allow the participants to express themselves or perform an action they wanted to do through our initiative, we talk about intrinsic motivation.

Sometimes, when a collective intelligence initiative is proposed, you can fall in the error of looking for many incentives: “if there are many incentives, I will attract more people”. But the search for incentives requires a deeper analysis: is there any interest group that I can get into the initiative offering certain incentive? Is it useful to use a certain incentive based on the cost / benefit ratio it provides?, etc.

Money is often used quickly as a first incentive. In these cases, and especially when we talk about initiatives that include the voluntary and disinterested participation of the crowd, we must take into account the so-called “crowdout effect”. This effect refers to the possible reduction of the intrinsic motivation of an individual due to the introduction of extrinsic incentives. This situation is especially relevant in those initiatives that, for their correct functioning, need the prosocial behavior of their participants, that is, tasks in which what the participant seeks is not so much their own benefit but helping others.

In a paper written by Roland Bénabou and Jean Tirole, from Princenton University, they expose different previous investigations that demonstrate this effect: donation of blood, collection of money for acts of charity or the search of garbage out of place among others. The paper, based on these cases, proposes a new theory of prosocial behavior.

Along the same line, Mellström & Johannesson (2008) demonstrate in a research that blood donations decrease if an economic incentive is offered in exchange for the donation. On the other hand, they also show that this negative effect disappears when what is offered is not an economic incentive for the participant, but to donate that amount to a charitable entity.

In any case, as Bénabou & Tirole affirm, it can not be assumed that extrinsic incentives systematically provoke the reduction of intrinsic motivation. Human behavior is complex and responds to different motives. For this reason the theory proposed by these authors combines a set of variables that take into account the intrinsic motivation, the material interests of the participants and the self-concept that each participant has about himself (which includes aspects related to reputation, the image that you want to give to the outside, social desirability, respect for oneself, etc.)

 

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