Category Archives: principle of care

Global Giving: Open Grant Proposal

Here’s an unusual thing for you to read: I am posting a brief description of a grant proposal that I will submit for the ‘vici’-competition of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research 2019 later this year. You can download the “pre-proposal” here. It is called “Global Giving”. With the study I aim to describe and explain philanthropy in a large number of countries across the world. I invite you to review the “pre-proposal” and suggest improvements; please use the comments box below, or write to me directly.

You may have heard the story that university researchers these days spend a lot of their time writing grant proposals for funding competitions. Also you may have heard the story that chances of success in such competitions are getting smaller and smaller. These stories are all true. But the story you seldom hear is how such competitions actually work: they are a source of stress, frustration, burnouts and depression, and a complete waste of the precious time of the smartest people in the world. Recently, Gross and Bergstrom found that “the effort researchers waste in writing proposals may be comparable to the total scientific value of the research that the funding supports”.

Remember the last time you saw the announcement of prize winners in a research grant competition? I have not heard a single voice in the choir of the many near-winners speak up: “Hey, I did not get a grant!” It is almost as if everybody wins all the time. It is not common in academia to be open about failures to win. How many vitaes you have seen recently contain a list of failures? This is a grave distortion of reality. Less than one in ten applications is succesful. This means that for each winning proposal there are at least nine proposals that did not get funding. I want you to know how much time is wasted by this procedure. So here I will be sharing my experiences with the upcoming ‘vici’-competition.

single-shot-santa

First let me tell you about the funny name of the competition. The name ‘vici’ derives from roman emperor Caesar’s famous phrase in Latin: ‘veni, vidi, vici’, which he allegedly used to describe a swift victory. The translation is: “I came, I saw, I conquered”. The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (‘Nederlandse organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek’, NWO) thought it fitting to use these names as titles of their personal grant schemes. The so-called ‘talent schemes’ are very much about the personal qualities of the applicant. The scheme heralds heroes. The fascination with talent goes against the very nature of science, where the value of an idea, method or result is not measured by the personality of the author, but by its validity and reliability. That is why peer review is often double blind and evaluators do not know who wrote the research report or proposal.

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Yet in the talent scheme, the personality of the applicant is very important. The fascination with talent creates Matthew effects, first described in 1968 by Robert K. Merton. The name ‘Matthew effect’ derives from the biblical phrase “For to him who has will more be given” (Mark 4:25). Simply stated: success breeds success. Recently, this effect has been documented in the talent scheme by Thijs Bol, Matthijs de Vaan and Arnout van de Rijt. When two applicants are equally good but one – by mere chance – receives a grant and the other does not, the ‘winner’ is ascribed with talent and the ‘loser’ is not. The ‘winner’ then gets a tremendously higher chance of receiving future grants.

As a member of committees for the ‘veni’ competition I have seen how this works in practice. Applicants received scores for the quality of their proposal from expert reviewers before we interviewed them. When we had minimal differences between the expert reviewer scores of candidates – differing only in the second decimal – personal characteristics of the researchers such as their self-confidence and manner of speaking during the interview often made the difference between ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. Ultimately, such minute differences add up to dramatically higher chances to be a full professor 10 years later, as the analysis in Figure 4 of the Bol, De Vaan & Van de Rijt paper shows.

matthew

My career is in this graph. In 2005, I won a ‘veni’-grant, the early career grant that the Figure above is about. The grant gave me a lot of freedom for research and I enjoyed it tremendously. I am pretty certain that the freedom that the grant gave me paved the way for the full professorship that I was recently awarded, thirteen years later. But back then, the size of the grant did not feel right. I felt sorry for those who did not make it. I knew I was privileged, and the research money I obtained was more than I needed. It would be much better to reduce the size of grants, so that a larger number of researchers can be funded. Yet the scheme is there, and it is a rare opportunity for researchers in the Netherlands to get funding for their own ideas.

This is my third and final application for a vici-grant. The rules for submission of proposals in this competition limit the number of attempts to three. Why am I going public with this final attempt?

The Open Science Revolution

You will have heard about open science. Most likely you will associate it with the struggle to publish research articles without paywalls, the exploitation of government funded scientists by commercial publishers, and perhaps even with Plan S. You may also associate open science with the struggle to get researchers to publish the data and the code they used to get to their results. Perhaps you have heard about open peer review of research publications. But most likely you will not have heard about open grant review. This is because it rarely happens. I am not the first to publish my proposal; the Open Grants repository currently contains 160 grant proposals. These proposals were shared after the competitions had run. The RIO Journal published 52 grant proposals. This is only a fraction of all grant proposals being created, submitted and reviewed. The many advantages of open science are not limited to funded research, they also apply to research ideas and proposals. By publishing my grant proposal before the competition, the expert reviews, the recommendations of the committee, my responses and experiences with the review process, I am opening up the procedure of grant review as much as possible.

Stages in the NWO Talent Scheme Grant Review Procedure

Each round of this competition takes almost a year, and proceeds in eight stages:

  1. Pre-application – March 26, 2019 <– this is where we are now
  2. Non-binding advice from committee: submit full proposal, or not – Summer 2019
  3. Full proposal – end of August 2019
  4. Expert reviews – October 2019
  5. Rebuttal to criticism in expert reviews – end of October 2019
  6. Selection for interview – November 2019
  7. Interview – January or February 2020
  8. Grant, or not – March 2020

If you’re curious to learn how this application procedure works in practice,
check back in a few weeks. Your comments and suggestions on the ideas above and the pre-proposal are most welcome!

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Philanthropy: from Charity to Prosocial Investment

Contribution to the March 2016 edition of the European Research Network on Philanthropy (ERNOP) newsletter. PDF version here.

Philanthropy can take many forms. It ranges from the student who showed up at my doorstep with a collection tin to raise small contributions for legal assistance to the poor to the recent announcement by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan of the establishment of a $42 billion charitable foundation. The media focused on the question why Zuckerberg and Chan would put 99% of their wealth in a foundation. The legal form of the foundation allowed Zuckerberg to keep control over the shares without having to pay taxes. Leaving aside the difficult question what motivation the legal form confesses for the moment, my point is that a change is taking place in the face that philanthropy takes.

Entrepreneurial forms of philanthropy, manifesting a strategic investment orientation, become more visible. We see them in social impact bonds, in social enterprises, in venture philanthropy and in the investments of foundations in the development of new drugs and treatments. A reliable count of the prevalence of such prosocial investments is not available, but 2015 was certainly a memorable year: the first Ebola vaccine was produced in a lab funded by the Wellcome Trust and polio was eradicated from Africa through coordinated efforts supported by a coalition of the WHO, Unicef, the Rotary International Foundation, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Of course there are limitations to philanthropy. Some problems are just too big to handle, even for the wealthiest foundations on earth, using the most innovative forms of investments. The refugee crisis continues to challenge the resilience of Europe. NGOs are delivering relief aid in the most difficult circumstances. But these efforts are band aids, as long as political leaders are struggling to gather the will power to solve it together.

The Zuckerberg/Chan announcement revived previous critiques of philanthrocapitalism. Isn’t it dangerous to have so much money in so few hands? Can we rely on wealthy foundations to invest in socially responsible ways? Foundations are the freest institutions on earth and can take risks that governments cannot afford. But the track records of the corporations that gave rise to the current foundation fortunes are not immaculate, monopolizing markets and evading taxes. Wealthy foundations can have a significant impact on society and influence public policy, limiting the influence of governments. It is political will that enables the existence and facilitates the fortune of wealthy foundations. Ultimately, the realization that the interests of the people should not be harmed enables the activities of foundations. Hence the talk about the importance of giving back to society.

The sociologist Alvin Gouldner is famous for his 1960 article ‘The Norm of Reciprocity’, which describes how reciprocity works. He also wrote a second classic, much less known: ‘The Importance of Something for Nothing.’ In this follow-up (1973), he stresses the norm of beneficence: “This norm requires men to give others such help as they need. Rather than making help contingent upon past benefits received or future benefits expected, the norm of beneficence calls upon men to aid others without thought of what they have done or what they can do for them, and solely in terms of a need imputed to the potential recipient.” In a series of studies I co-authored with Mark Ottoni-Wilhelm, an economist from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, we call this norm ‘the principle of care’.

With this quote I return to the question about motivation. The letter to their daughter in which Zuckerberg and Chan announced their foundation reveals noble concerns for the future of mankind. It is not their child’s need that motivated them, but the needs of the world in which she is born. This is the genesis of true philanthropy. Pretty much like the awareness of need that the law student demonstrated at my doorstep.

References

Bekkers, R. & Ottoni-Wilhelm, M. (2016). Principle of Care and Giving to Help People in Need. European Journal of Personality.  

Gouldner, A.W. (1960). The Norm of Reciprocity: A Preliminary Statement. American Sociological Review, 25 (2): 161-178. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2092623

Gouldner, A.W. (1973). The Importance of Something for Nothing. In: Gouldner, A.W. (Ed.). For Sociology, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Wilhelm, M.O., & Bekkers, R. (2010). Helping Behavior, Dispositional Empathic Concern, and the Principle of Care. Social Psychology Quarterly, 73 (1): 11-32.

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THE CURIOUS EVENT OF THE MONEY AT BROAD DAYLIGHT

This post in pdf

One day I cycled back home from work when I suddenly found myself in a curious situation. Shimmering in the gutter lay a folded €20 bill. It was just lying there, between the fallen leaves, in front of one of those expensive homes that I passed by everyday. It was as if the bill called out to me: ‘Pick me up!’ I saw nobody coming from the house. But the road was quite busy with cyclists. There was a student a few meters behind me – I had just passed her – and I saw a man a little bit further behind me. I did not know the student, nor the man, who looked like a fellow academic.

I slowed down, and looked over my shoulder. The student and the man behind me slowed down too, but had not noticed the bill. I pulled over and picked it up. The student stopped cycling and got off her bike. The young woman looked me in the eye and smiled. I realized that I had been the lucky person to find the money, but that I was no more entitled to take it home than she was. “Is this yours?” I joked.

“Ehhm…no”, she said. Of course the money wasn’t hers. I had just asked her whether the money was hers to make me feel more entitled to take the money myself. It did not work. The money was not mine and I knew it. I had to find an excuse not to share the money. I bluffed. I held the bill in the air, made a ripping gesture and said: “We could split it…?” The man who was behind us had slowed down and looked at us. The student laughed and said: “Well, do you have a €10?” I realized I was trapped. Before I knew it I replied: “You never know”. I knew I did have a €10 bill in my wallet. I flipped it open, took out the €10 and gave it to her. The man frowned as he passed by. He certainly looked like an academic and seemed puzzled. I tucked away the €20 in my wallet. The student smiled and said “Thank you. Enjoy your day!” And I did. The sun shone brighter that day.

Later I realized that the incident with the money at broad daylight is curious not just because it was such a unique event. It was also curious because it is similar to a situation that I thought only existed in artificial experimental situations. Even on the day of the event I had been reading articles about ‘dictator game’ experiments. In these experiments, often conducted in psychological laboratories with students sitting alone in small cubicles, participants think they participate in a study on ‘decision making’ or ‘emotions’ but then suddenly get $10 in $1 bills. The students have not done anything to get the money. They just showed up at the right time at the right place, usually in exchange for a smaller ‘show up’ fee of $5. Their task in the experiment with the $10 is to decide how much of the $10 they would like to keep and how much they will give to an ‘anonymous other participant’. The receiver cannot refuse the money – that is why economists call the experiment a ‘Dictator Game’. The participant has the power to donate any desired amount, from $0 to $10. The payout happens in a separate room after the experiment. All participants enter the room individually and receive an envelope containing the money that their dictator has donated – if any. An ingenious procedure ensures that nobody (except the dictator, of course) will know who donated the money she receives. The recipient will not know who her dictator was.

Despite the unfavorable circumstances, participants in dictator games typically give away at least some of the money that they have received. In fact, the proportion of participants giving away nothing at all averages at a little over a third. Almost two thirds of the participants in these experiments donate at least $1. When I had first read about these experiments, I found the results fascinating and puzzling. Why would anyone give anything? There’s no punishment possible for not donating because the receiver has no power to refuse the money and because – except feelings of guilt. Without realizing that I had been in a real life dictator game, I had behaved as many students do in the laboratory.

Another reason why the incident with the money was curious was that it made me think again about theories on generosity that I had learned from reading articles in scientific journals. I thought I had gained some insights on why people give from these theories. But now that I had been in a real life dictator game, the ‘Generosity Puzzle’ seemed more difficult to solve. Why on earth do people give away money to people they don’t know? Why do people give money to people that they will probably never meet again, and who will not be able to give back what they have been given?

Because of the incident, these questions suddenly became personal questions. Why had I myself given away half of the money to a student that I did not know, and would probably never see again? Was it her smiling face when she asked whether I had a €10 bill? What if she had become angry with me and demanded half of the money? If she had not had the nerve to ask whether I had a €10 bill, I would probably have left with €20 instead of a €10. Or what if the student had been male? Would I have shared the money with him? And what if the man cycling behind us had joined our conversation? He had slowed down but had kept cycling. Though there is no easy way to split €20 into three equal amounts, there is also no good reason why the man had not asked for an equal share.

Perhaps a more remote influence had made me split the money with the student? Was it my parents who taught me the value of sharing? I remember a family holiday in Scandinavia with my parents and my brother when I was young. We paused on a parking lot and I walked around looking for stones. Suddenly I found three bills lying on the ground next to large truck. The money was a small fortune to me. Just as I had done when I found the €20 bill, I tried to find the owner, but there was nobody in the truck or anywhere on the parking lot. I gave the money to my mother. Upon our return to the parking lot at the end of the day, we found a parking fine on our car. The money I found went to the Oslo police.

Of course I also played a role in the event of the money myself. I could have just taken the money without saying anything. If I had not asked whether the money was hers, the student had probably gone home without any money from me. I offered to split the money because I felt lucky but not entitled to keep the money. You can keep money that you have worked for. If I had not endorsed this principle and if I had not felt lucky finding the money I would probably have kept it.

The incident of the money could have ended quite differently if the circumstances had been different and if the people involved had been different. Research on generosity shows that almost anything in the incident influenced the level of generosity that eventually took place. Though the incident was quite unique, it does share a fundamental property of generosity in being the product of a wide range of factors. It is not just the outcome of the values and personalities of the people involved – my gratitude, the justice principle, and the boldness of the student. Also more transient factors such as a good mood after a productive day’s work have an influence on generosity. Even seemingly meaningless characteristics of the situation such as the weather, the smile of a stranger and eye contact with a passer-by can have a profound impact on generosity. These factors have been studied by scholars in many different scientific disciplines who often work in mutual isolation. I hope my research efforts provide some useful pieces to the Generosity Puzzle.

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Update: Giving in the Netherlands Panel Survey User Manual

A new version of the User Manual for the Giving in the Netherlands Panel Survey is now available: version 2.2.

The GINPS12 questionnaire is here (in Dutch).

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Dag van de Filantropie en Boekpresentatie Geven in Nederland 2013 op 25 april

Op de Dag van de Filantropie 2013 – het jaarlijks terugkerend evenement op de laatste donderdag van april – is dit jaar het boek ‘Geven in Nederland 2013’ gepresenteerd. Dit jaar kreeg een bijzonder tintje door het aanvaarden van een bijzondere leerstoel met het uitspreken van de rede ‘De maatschappelijke betekenis van filantropie’ door René Bekkers.

Kiezen om te Delen: Filantropie in Tijden van Economische Tegenwind

Nu het economisch niet voor de wind gaat zien we allerlei verschuivingen in de filantropie in Nederland. We zien een  terugval in het geefgedrag en verschuivingen in bestedingen van bedrijven en huishoudens. Zij moeten bewustere keuzes maken; onderscheid maken tussen wat écht belangrijk is en wat niet. De dynamiek binnen de bronnen van filantropische bijdragen en maatschappelijke doelen vormden het hoofdthema van het symposium. De presentatie van het onderzoek naar geefgedrag door huishoudens en vermogende Nederlanders vindt u hier. De resultaten van het onderzoek naar bedrijven, sociale normen rond filantropie en de trends in de cijfers van de bijdragen van huishoudens, bedrijven, en loterijen vindt u later op de Geven in Nederland website.

De Maatschappelijke Betekenis van Filantropie

De groeiende aandacht voor filantropie wordt meestal verklaard uit het feit dat de overheid moet bezuinigingen. Men vergeet echter dat de sector filantropie zich vanaf begin jaren ‘90 in rap tempo heeft ontwikkeld. Het “Geven in Nederland”onderzoek maakt deel uit van deze ontwikkeling. Van bezuinigingen was in die periode geen sprake, eerder het tegendeel. Particulier initiatief liet weer van zich horen. Met het sluiten van het Convenant “Ruimte voor Geven” in juni 2011 tussen het kabinet en de sector filantropie is een nieuwe situatie ontstaan, waarin filantropie de ruimte krijgt om meer maatschappelijke betekenis te krijgen.

Wat is de maatschappelijke betekenis van filantropie? Die vraag beantwoordt René Bekkers in zijn oratie. Bekkers is per 1 januari 2013 aan de Faculteit Sociale Wetenschappen van de Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam aangesteld als bijzonder hoogleraar Sociale aspecten van prosociaal gedrag. De leerstoel is mede mogelijk gemaakt door de Van der Gaag Stichting van de Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen (KNAW) voor een periode van vijf jaar. Bekkers gaat in op de herkomst en bestemming van filantropie in de samenleving. Waarom zien we meer filantropie in sommige sociale groepen, landen en perioden dan in andere? In welke sociale omstandigheden doen mensen vrijwilligerswerk en geven ze geld aan goededoelenorganisaties? In welke mate en in welke omstandigheden zullen Nederlanders overheidsbezuinigingen op kunst en cultuur, internationale hulp en andere doelen compenseren?

De volledige tekst van de oratie vindt u hier.

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Religion and Compassion in the Netherlands

Recently, a study on religion and compassion published in Social Psychological and Personality Science attracted attention in the media. ‘Strongly religious people less compassionate’, a Dutch news website reported. This headline is misleading because the study did not show that religious people are less compassionate. In fact the research even showed evidence for the opposite, i.e. that more religious individuals report more compassion than less religious individuals. Analysis of survey data from the Netherlands show that these results also hold true in the Netherlands.

Read more about the data from the Netherlands here.

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