Incentive alignment is a unique idea that could significantly increase participation and idea quality during social impact challenges. The concept involves the perceived tying of a person’s participation within a social impact event, into something that he or she is already actively seeking or doing, such as applying for competitive schools, jobs, and grants. Incentive alignment has a chance to make a revolutionary impact on many of our current systems, with partners who participate in our experiment having to do nothing more than agree to include a one-line, optional invitation in a post-application communication.
A Personal Example: When I applied for Harvard, a rather competitive process, I submitted an online application, received a verification email that it had been received by the university, and then I waited, and waited, for several months. I knew Harvard was hard to get into, yet I, like most other applicants, felt that I needed every competitive advantage that I could get– even after my application was submitted. I was fully 100% motivated and incentivized to do anything I could, but there was nothing left to do.
But what if, after I had submitted my application, that confirmation email had something similar to this in it, with a link to a social impact challenge:
Thank you for applying to Harvard University, we will review your application soon. Decisions will be made by May 1st. In the meantime, we invite you to participate in an optional ideation challenge hosted by Harvard.
After reading those ast 13 words, you would not have been able to keep me from participating. I would have submitted a thoroughly researched and carefully crafted solution, while collaborating with others to ensure that I helped improve their ideas as well. My incentive to participate would have been fully aligned with my currently active personal motivations.
High-Demand Organizations: High-demand organizations (HDO’s) are any organization that has a higher-than-usual demand for their services, such as top universities, Fortune 500 companies, grant-giving foundations, etc. If something is offered that is hard to get and is in big demand, the organization offering it is considered an HDO. We hypothesize that Incentive alignment works best when implemented by these HDOs, and this is the research project that we will be investing throughout the STEM Challenge.
Optional Alignment: We can’t stress enough that the sentence asked by HDOs to include in their communications does not need to be a part of the application itself, and can be just as effective if placed within the post-application communications (i.e. the confirmation email). Partners who agree to join us in this experiment can significantly benefit themselves, the applicants, and society, with bare minimum effort and at no cost to the HDO.
Partner Benefits: Externally, partners benefit by being officially recognized as a Social Impact Partner Organization by Harvard’s Crowd Innovation Lab. Internally, partner organizations could begin to gain unique insights into several of their applicant’s skillsets that cannot be easily ascertained through the traditional employer/school/grant application process. These skills include many that are highly sought after, but not easy to spot in the review/application process, including one’s creativity, adaptivity, leadership, and their ability and willingness to collaborate.
Participant Benefits: Participants who take advantage of an HDO’s invitation also benefit. These benefits include the opportunity to stand out by giving these organizations ways to see skills that are often not reflected on resumes or during interviews. Challenge participants will also gain invaluable experience in the art of collaborative problem-solving, by helping to brainstorm solutions to real-world problems, which may also get implemented. Challenge participants can also significantly increase their professional network whether they happen to “win” the challenge or not. Even if the participant is not hired by the HDO he or she will be in a much better position to possibly try again. Finally, participation is also free.
Societal Benefits: Most importantly, society as a whole will benefit by having thousands of the brightest, most creative people in the world actively participating in solving some of the most difficult issues of our time. We predict that solution submissions that come through incentive alignment will be some of the best and most creative. By focusing on collaboration over competition, we’re ensuring that every participant is fully incentivized to improve the solutions of all others, thus improving the overall chances of the challenge impacting the world.