“The biscuit trick”- should schools pay our kids to achieve?
Michael Simpson, Year Here
There’s something funny about watching a child’s eyes light up at the sound of the word “biscuit”. From a disgruntled Year 10 pupil to a hysterical, chair-throwing, limb-flailing Year 8 – I’ve watched the offer of a biscuit solve even the most turbulent situations. The modern carrot-and-stick technique, “the biscuit trick” is often a last-resort strategy in the ‘inclusion unit’ at Hatch End High School in Harrow. Simple yet effective, an artfully dispensed chocolate digestive or custard cream can often be enough to calm, distract or motivate kids in the difficult throes of adolescence. It begs the question, if a sugary mesh of butter and flour can do this much, how far could larger rewards, or even financial incentives go towards motivating disadvantaged youngsters and narrowing the gaps in educational achievement across the UK?
A major study by Stephen Gorard of the University of Birmingham recently concluded that bribing children from poor homes with cash rewards to attend school, do their homework and read books is the most effective way to improve their exam results. In a review of more than 165,000 research studies and journal articles, it was found that dangling financial carrots (or biscuits) is a more effective way of increasing the success of disadvantaged students than other large-scale initiatives aimed at raising aspirations.
Working as a learning mentor at a secondary school, it doesn’t take long to notice “the biscuit trick” manifesting itself in a number of ways. From stickers, drinks and chocolate to the Vivo Miles system, in which students can gain credits towards getting prizes including iPods- incentives are everywhere.
The notion behind this technique is simple. If children receive incentives for a certain behaviour or goal, they are more likely to achieve that goal.
Harvard economist Roland Fryer Jr ran a test among 18,000 children in cities across the US, paying out a total of $6.3 million in financial incentives. Fryer found that when cash is given for something every student could control, like reading books or attending class, the results are better than when they were rewarded for more intangible tasks, like achieving better grades. Basically, kids know how to attend school, limit bad behaviour, and read more books but they don’t always know how to improve test results and develop their skills.
Giving financial rewards has been said to pose a number of risks. The University of Rochester’s Edward Deci’s experiments in the 1970s found that money-like other tangible rewards- was not a brilliant motivator in the long term. When material rewards were taken away, the acts that they had been rewarding in the first place often diminished, arguably reducing the intrinsic value of the task itself. Some teachers have argued that rewarding children for what they should be motivated to do anyway is a dangerous game to play.
Rather than just look at financial incentives, we could cast an eye over the popularised ‘nudge’ theory- the idea that some people can be pushed to behave in certain ways through emphasising ‘social norms’. Or perhaps we could deploy the notion of semantic priming- the idea that the words that we use can have a major impact on the way that the human unconscious influences conscious actions. It can all sound very daunting, but with some positive peer pressure, gentle framing of language to encourage educational engagement, and the possibility of small financial incentives for those who are most disadvantaged, we could arrive at a more positive horizon for educational disadvantage that isn’t dependent on a one-tiered approach.
While more good research needs to be done on the effects of incentives, particularly financial ones, real impact must be made in addressing educational disadvantage that looks beyond a one-pronged quick fix solution. As Fryer says, ‘Kids should learn for the love of learning…but what if they’re not?’. From my experience the “biscuit trick” works, but it surely shouldn’t be the only one up our sleeve.
Posted by Lynette on May 22, 2013
Don’t Ignore The Hype
On Monday, I spent the afternoon with a number of large charities who are participating in the Open Innovation Programme; part of the Cabinet Office’s Innovation in Giving Fund.
We talked a lot about trends in giving and explored some questions about what would enable us to differentiate between a long-term trend from a passing fad. The stakes are high for many charities; and while there seems to be an acknowledged need to innovate, translating that need into being comfortable spending time on testing things that might not work is not as straightforward…
Understanding the hype cycle felt relevant to explore with our participating charities. A lot of innovation is happening within the charitable sector but there is a fantastic amount going on outside it; that will affect charities one way or the other. And for those charities without the internal resources to dedicate to innovation and experimentation, looking round at a plethora of new ideas can create some complex dilemmas about how to act.
The hype cycle is one way of articulating that over the course of a lifetime of a particular idea, innovation or breakthrough, there will be a period of time where the inflated expectations about what it can achieve masks the reality of what it may be able to ultimately achieve. And having been in the beating heart of a digital media agency during the dot com boom and bust, it’s easy to reflect on the web’s giant hype cycle. I saw plenty of emperors wandering around in new clothes at that time (not a pretty sight) and if I’m honest, I see a little of it now in the collaborative consumption space. But just as all great aviation engineers stand on the shoulders of those who took to the air in W Heath Robinson deathtraps made of bicycles and organza, much of what happens in an innovation’s early days fuels the collective learning and insight, that in turn fuels evolution and adaptation; taking us to a point where we can make a fairly good judgment about the value of the idea, in what context it best works and how we can exploit it. So. Lean back and learn from what happens to others or steal the march on the idea in the hope you’ve made a good bet that the idea is a winner?
In 2005, when Alex Tew from Wiltshire set up the million dollar home page, with a mission to sell the one million pixels on his home page for a dollar each. He managed it, raising over a million dollars and spawned a whole load of copy-cat sites, which of course never realised the same success as he had. Most people saw that this for what it was – a one-off, a gimmick. But the principles that underpinned it were age old and pretty sound; that you can, given an engaging enough idea, get lots and lots of people to give you relatively small amounts of money. The rise of tech enabled crowd-funding embodies these exact principles, and while I would expect crowd-funding to evolve quite a bit over the next few years – I suspect the principles that underpin it will broadly persist. So when we’re looking at ideas like crowd-funding, sharing platforms, NFC, reward cards for giving etc, it makes sense to look under the bonnet and explore the underlying principles. Do the principles (as distinct from the thing itself) stack up for you? And are there more and better ways they might be applied to suit your organisation and aims?
We’re supporting 28 charities through the Open Innovation Programme, all of whom have bought into the idea that sharing the risks and rewards of backing an early stage innovation is a good way of navigating these dilemmas. We’ll be supporting about ten of the twenty-eight charities developing the most promising ideas more intensively in 2013 and from what I saw yesterday, we’ll be making some very tough choices about who to back.
Posted by Lynette on September 10, 2012
Standing Out From The Crowd
One of my favourite things about these amazing Olympics has been the Games Makers. That’s the 70,000 or so volunteers that can be seen across Central London and at Olympic venues all over the country.
Whether you like the colour or not, there is something inarguably cool about a bunch of ordinary people standing out from the crowd in their Games Maker kits (kudos to Adidas). You know there’s no pretensions, no cynicism – just great people giving up their time for someone or something else.
Are they motivated by the chance to be part of something bigger; to be a part of the greatest show on earth? Of course they are and there’s nothing wrong with that.
These people are literally making the games possible by giving up their time to do everything from directing the flows of people at tube stations to mopping up the sweat on the badminton courts. It’s social action on a massive scale.
What’s even more striking is how the rest of us respond. We smile at them in the street and say hello, I’ve seen people stand on crowded trains to offer their seats to weary looking Games Makers on their way home and they’ve even got battle-hardened commuters like me having conversations early in the morning as we eagerly ask them what venue they’re at and what it’s like.
A few months ago I was in Cambridge town centre on what happened to be the day of Race for Life. That’s another huge display of collective social action, as hundreds of thousands of women run 5k to raise much needed funds for research into cancer. It is though, much more than a fun run. The runners dress in a uniform of pink and wear on their backs the names of the mums, aunties, sisters and friends who have suffered that disease. It is a collective act of solidarity with intensely personal motivations on display. Too easily taken for granted, it is a remarkable thing.
That morning we went for brunch and again I was struck by the way that the “rest of us” reacted to the runners as they started to arrive for some well-earned food. As each woman in pink arrived, the owner of the restaurant welcomed them with a glass of fizz on the house and a little cheer went up across the dining room.
So what do the Games Makers and Race for Life have to tell us about social action and what are the lessons for the many innovators that are trying to find ways to get more of us to give our time and money to causes we care about?
First, we need to look at the potential for collective action to engage new people in giving their time for causes they care about. It’s a reasonable guess that many of the Games Makers and Race for Life runners were first time volunteers (if anyone’s got the data, let me know) and now that they’ve taken some social action, it’s more likely that they’ll go on to do something else.
The catalyst that got them giving might have been the excitement of being part of the Olympics or the pain of losing a loved one, but the effect is the same: they have taken social action and that will have changed their perceptions of themselves (see Timothy Wilson’s excellent book on how this happens).
And you don’t need an event as big as the Olympic Games to harness the power of collective civic acts. New York didn’t win the Olympics and it didn’t stop them mobilising an army of volunteers through Mayor Bloomberg’s City of Service initiative. They famously called on citizens to paint over 1 million square feet of the cities roofs white to help reduce carbon emissions from air conditioning. Now hundreds of cities across the US regularly mobilise an army of ordinary people to take social action together.
Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t happen here. Team London has been around for a few years now and is building a British version of the US Cities of Service in our capital. Perhaps it is time we created Team Swindon, Team Leeds, or Team Calderdale?
Alongside mobilising people to do some good together, we need to think more creatively about how we make giving visible and celebrated. Games Makers and the Race for Life deploy the very simple technology of clothing – a uniform that signals to the world that you are giving your time for others. It’s an incredibly powerful mechanism, but it’s not the only one.
Increasingly we all define ourselves to the world through social media. Innovations like Givey and Blue Dot are exploring the potential for these new social identities to capture information about our giving habits and make it part of the story we tell to the world.
Is there a possible future where alongside telling the world about our education, jobs and favourite films, social media platforms like facebook prompt us to say what social action we’ve taken?
Posted by Lynette on August 8, 2012
Welcome to this new micro-site showcasing the organisations and ideas that we’re supporting through the Innovation in Giving Fund. It’s the first time that we’ve brought together the innovations in one place and we think it’s a pretty impressive portfolio.
Across the 32 projects you’ll find an incredible range of ideas with the potential to transform the way that people give and share to achieve social goals. From genuinely imaginative ways of asking people to give, to projects that harness the power of new technology to make giving and sharing easier and more compelling, we think we’ve found some amazing innovations that could help make this country even more generous.
It’s a hugely important and exciting field. Giving has always been financially, socially and culturally significant – some estimate that as much as £11 billion is donated in the UK each year and that is dwarfed by the value of the time that is given through formal and informal volunteering. This hidden wealth is perhaps the most important and yet least understood aspect of our economic and social well-being.
For some time now, there has been concern that the levels of giving have flat-lined. And yet, in an age of ubiquitous digital technologies, many of the barriers to giving – like how to connect demand and supply or how to establish trust between strangers – are vanishing as new platforms drive more generous behaviours. At a time when resources are so constrained, we’re also seeing a shift towards more collaboration, where under-utilised resources and assets are being identified and reused, repurposed or shared, often for a social purpose.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an innovation fund if we didn’t take some risks and expect some failure. While we’ll be working hard to make sure all of the projects we back are successful, we know that the likelihood is that some, if not many of them, won’t make it. That’s why we’re putting so much emphasis on how we build and share knowledge from this portfolio of innovations. Whether successful or not, we hope their stories can inspire and help others who are seeking to innovate in this increasingly important field.
Over the next year we’ll be using this micro-site and blog to share the stories of these and other innovations in giving. We hope to create an indispensible resource for innovators in the UK and around the world. Please take the time to get involved and comment, email or connect with us via social media. We look forward to hearing from you.
Posted by carrina on April 23, 2012
Innovation in Giving Blog
This is the Nesta Innovation in Giving blog. More content coming soon.
Posted by admin on April 13, 2012
- blue dot
- Brixton Pound
- Business Giving
- Cabinet Office
- civic acts
- collaborative consumption
- Design Council
- Economic Growth
- fund raising
- Game Changing
- Give What You're Good At
- Global sharing
- Innovation in giving
- payroll giving
- people who share
- race for life
- social action
- Social responsibility
- Tag 01
- THe Good People
- Trading For Good
- Warwick Business School
- women like us
- Young Philanthropy