Conservatism Gets Funded? A Field Experiment on the Role of Negative Information in Novel Project Evaluation

29 Pages Posted: 20 Jul 2020 Last revised: 16 Jun 2021

See all articles by Jacqueline N. Lane

Jacqueline N. Lane

Harvard Business School

Misha Teplitskiy

University of Michigan School of Information

Gary Gray

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Hardeep Ranu

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Michael Menietti

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Eva Guinan

Harvard Medical School; Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Karim R. Lakhani

Harvard Business School - Technology and Operations Management Group; Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science; Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Date Written: November 4, 2020

Abstract

The evaluation and selection of novel projects lies at the heart of scientific and technological innovation, and yet there are persistent concerns about bias, such as conservatism. This paper investigates the role that the format of evaluation, specifically information sharing among expert evaluators, plays in generating conservative decisions. We executed two field experiments in two separate grant funding opportunities at a leading research university, mobilizing 369 evaluators from seven universities to evaluate 97 projects resulting in 761 proposal-evaluation pairs and over $300,000 in awards. We exogenously varied the relative valence (positive and negative) of others’ scores and measured how exposures to higher and lower scores affect the focal evaluator’s propensity to change the initial score. We found causal evidence of a negativity bias, where evaluators lower their scores by more points after seeing scores more critical than their own than raise them after seeing more favorable scores. Qualitative coding of the evaluators’ justifications for score changes reveal that exposures to lower scores were associated greater attention to uncovering weaknesses, whereas exposures to neutral or higher scores with increased emphasis on non-evaluation criteria, such as confidence in one’s judgment. The greater power of negative information suggests that information sharing among expert evaluators can lead to more conservative allocation decisions that favor protecting against failure than maximizing success.

Keywords: project evaluation, innovation, knowledge frontier, diversity, negativity bias

Suggested Citation

N. Lane, Jacqueline and Teplitskiy, Misha and Gray, Gary and Ranu, Hardeep and Menietti, Michael and Guinan, Eva and Lakhani, Karim R., Conservatism Gets Funded? A Field Experiment on the Role of Negative Information in Novel Project Evaluation (November 4, 2020). Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Mgt. Unit Working Paper No. 21-007, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3656495 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3656495

Jacqueline N. Lane

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Misha Teplitskiy

University of Michigan School of Information ( email )

Ann Arbor, MI
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.misha.mx

Gary Gray

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

No Address Available

Hardeep Ranu

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Michael Menietti

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Eva Guinan

Harvard Medical School ( email )

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
450 Brookline Avenue, Suite M1B29
Boston, MA 02215
United States
617-632-4932 (Phone)
617-632-3770 (Fax)

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute ( email )

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
450 Brookline Avenue, Suite M1B29
Boston, MA 02215
United States
617-632-4932 (Phone)
617-632-3770 (Fax)

Karim R. Lakhani (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School - Technology and Operations Management Group ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States
617-495-6741 (Phone)

Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science ( email )

1737 Cambridge St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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