Category Archives: regulation

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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Four misunderstandings about research on philanthropy

“What do people misunderstand about your research?” A great question that allows me to correct a few popular ideas about our research on philanthropy.

1. Who pays you? The first misunderstanding is that charities pay for our research on philanthropy. We understand that you would think that, because for charitable organizations it is useful to know what makes people give. After all, they are in the business of fundraising. On the other hand, you would not assume that second hand car dealers or diamond traders fund research on trust or that ski resort owners would fund climate change research. We are talking to foundations and fundraising organizations about the insights from our work that may help them in their business, but the work itself is funded primarily by the Ministry of Justice and Security of the government of the Netherlands and by the DG Research & Innovation of the European Commission.

2. What is the best charity? The second misunderstanding is that we vet charities and foundations, like we are some sort of philanthropy police. We don’t rate effective charities or give prizes for the best foundations, nor do we keep lists of bad apples in the philanthropy sector. We don’t track the activities that charities spend their funds on, or how much is ‘actually going to the cause’. If you need this kind of information, check the annual reports of organizations. We do warn the public that raising money costs money and that organizations saying they have no overhead costs are probably doing something wrong.

3. What is altruism? The third misunderstanding is that altruism is a gift that entails a sacrifice. You can hear this when people give each other compliments like: “That is very altruistic of you!” When people give to others despite the fact that they have little themselves and giving is costly, we tend to think this gift is worth more than a relatively small gift by a wealthy person. The term you are looking for here is generosity, not altruism. Altruism is a gift motivated by a concern for the well-being of the recipient. How much of the giving we see is altruism is one of the key questions on philanthropy. Which conditions make people give out of altruism, and what kind of people are more likely to do so, is a very difficult question to answer, because it is so difficult to isolate altruism from egoistic motivations for giving.

4. Crowding-in. The fourth misunderstanding is that less government implies more philanthropy. You can hear this in statements like “Americans give so much because the government there does so little”. The desire to have a small government is a political goal in itself, not an effective way to increase philanthropy. As government spending increases, citizens do not give less, and conversely, as government spending decreases, citizens do not give more. In the past decades, giving in the USA as a proportion of GDP is essentially a flat line with some fluctuation around 2%, even though government spending has increased enormously in this period. Also countries in which government spending as a proportion of GDP is higher are not necessarily countries in which people give more. In Europe, we even see a negative relationship: as citizens pay more taxes, a higher proportion of the population gives to charity. Learn more about this by reading my lecture ‘Values of Philanthropy’ at the 13th ISTR Conference we organized at VU Amsterdam.

 

PS – It was the tweet below (link here) that prompted this post:

misunderstanding

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Four Reasons Why We Are Converting to Open Science

The Center for Philanthropic Studies I am leading at VU Amsterdam is converting to Open Science.

Open Science offers four advantages to the scientific community, nonprofit organizations, and the public at large:

  1. Access: we make our work more easily accessible for everyone. Our research serves public goods, which are served best by open access.
  2. Efficiency: we make it easier for others to build on our work, which saves time.
  3. Quality: we enable others to check our work, find flaws and improve it.
  4. Innovation: ultimately, open science facilitates the production of knowledge.

What does the change mean in practice?

First, the source of funding for contract research we conduct will always be disclosed.

Second, data collection – interviews, surveys, experiments – will follow a prespecified protocol. This includes the number of observations forseen, the questions to be asked, measures to be included, hypotheses to be tested, and analyses to be conducted. New studies will be preferably be preregistered.

Third, data collected and the code used to conduct the analyses will be made public, through the Open Science Framework for instance. Obviously, personal or sensitive data will not be made public.

Fourth, results of research will preferably be published in open access mode. This does not mean that we will publish only in Open Access journals. Research reports and papers for academic will be made available online in working paper archives, as a ‘preprint’ version, or in other ways.

 

December 16, 2015 update:

A fifth reason, following directly from #1 and #2, is that open science reduces the costs of science for society.

See this previous post for links to our Giving in the Netherlands Panel Survey data and questionnaires.

 

July 8, 2017 update:

A public use file of the Giving in the Netherlands Panel Survey and the user manual are posted at the Open Science Framework.

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Een gedragscode voor werving nalatenschappen door goede doelen

In 1Vandaag zei ik op 19 februari dat er in Nederland geen gedragscode voor de werving van nalatenschappen bestaat. Dit blijkt niet waar, er is wel degelijk een richtlijn voor nalatenschappenwerving. In de regels van het Centraal Bureau Fondsenwerving voor het CBF-Keur en op de website van de VFI (Vereniging voor Fondsenwervende Instellingen), branchevereniging voor goede doelen, is deze richtlijn echter niet te vinden. De VFI heeft wel een richtlijn voor de afwikkeling van nalatenschappen. Maar die gaat over de afwikkeling, als het geld al binnen is. Niet over de werving van nalatenschappen.

Het blijkt dat de richtlijn voor de werving van nalatenschappen is gepubliceerd door een derde organisatie, het Instituut Fondsenwerving. Deze organisatie heeft in 2012 een richtlijn opgesteld voor fondsenwervende instellingen die nalatenschappen werven. De richtlijn is niet verplichtend. Het Instituut Fondsenwerving heeft ook een gedragscode waar haar leden zich aan hebben te houden, maar de richtlijn voor nalatenschappen heeft niet de status van gedragscode. Bij het Instituut Fondsenwerving zijn volgens de ledenlijst 231 goede doelen organisaties aangesloten (klik hier voor een overzicht in Excel). Het Leger des Heils is lid van het IF, maar de Zonnebloem niet. Ook andere grote ontvangers van nalatenschappen, zoals KWF Kankerbestrijding, ontbreken op de ledenlijst. Zij zijn wel lid van de VFI, dat 113 leden en 11 aspirant leden telt.

De VFI reageerde op de uitzending via haar website en vermeldde de richtlijn van het Instituut Fondsenwerving. De status van de richtlijn is in de reactie opgehoogd naar een gedragscode. Dit zou betekenen dat leden die zich niet aan de richtlijn houden, kunnen worden geroyeerd. Gosse Bosma, directeur van de VFI, zei overigens in de 1Vandaag uitzending dat de VFI niet is nagegaan of de betrokken leden zich aan de richtlijn hebben gehouden en dat ook niet nodig te vinden. Het IF zelf heeft niet gereageerd. Ook de ontvangende goede doelen, de Zonnebloem en het Leger des Heils, reageerden deze week via het vaktijdschrift voor de filantropie, Filanthropium. Zij verklaarden zich bereid onrechtmatigheden te corrigeren. Wordt ongetwijfeld vervolgd in de volgende fase van deze zaak, of wanneer een nieuwe zaak zich aandient.

 

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