Posts Tagged ‘opinions’

Looking Good and Cooperation

August 25, 2015

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Getting people to “pitch in” or engage can be a challenge.

Long ago, the “Pigouvian” approach to encouraging social cooperation was articulated by Arthur Pigou, a British economist. His idea was cooperation gets incented with  changes in price. For example, if we make water or energy more expensive or pay people to vaccinate their children. Costs are way to affect actions. Many times, though, people resist change even with higher prices. What we know now is that changing the material costs and benefits of cooperation appears to have limits.

What Promotes Cooperation?

Current research gives us some new ways to promote cooperation: they both build on social consciousness and the desire for a “good image.” They can be mutually reinforcing, too. One way is to raise visibility of people’s choices. An application of this? Donors are often cited in lists that recognize them at special events or in a public ad. Or, a pledge list is posted at a website.

Another option is to provide information about how others are behaving. This plays on a “keeping up with the Joneses” perspective. An example application? A California public utility sends homeowners comparable information about neighbors’ water use. People are eager to know if they are below, average or above. With no fondness, my husband recalls from his childhood a particular priest who published giving records of parishioner families. That example combines both visibility and comparability. Information can alter behavior, especially if toward a common goal.

Not all, but many people cooperate because they are concerned about appearances. Humans are social beings and deeply influenced by each other. People know that when they are observed doing good by others, then it benefits their reputation. This is why “true character” is best determined by what people do when unobserved.  And, it’s also why “herd behavior” can head in a constructive or destructive direction.

Leaders Offer Clear Right Actions

Norms (or the “right actions”) are a powerful influence and act as both an incentive and deterrent. Knowing why social interventions are effective can help guide policies and practices, regardless of sector. Setting defaults for noncooperation is becoming more common. For example, a suggested fee or donation pressures a participant to contribute or they must actively opt out (often, in a publicly observed setting). This same phenomenon occurs at church when the offering bowl is passed down the pew. Or, when a company automatically withholds a designated portion of salary for a benefit matching program and requires intentional action by non-participants. Because norms set clear guidance regarding standards for performance of individuals, disciplined attention to them is a vital lever in your organization (as well as home and community).

Influentials  First, Then Perceptions

Remember this as you seek highly engaged peers, team members, donors and volunteers. Making people feel more accountable supports cooperation. Being observed, making participation visible, and a clear display of “example” has substantial effect. What matters hugely are the “right actions” displayed by influentials. They shout what’s appropriate and what will get applause. It is the foundation for what matters to most people – the opinions of others.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com


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