Science of Science

The Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard (LISH) is interested in understanding the science of science, and is conducting research on the science production function, knowledge creation and evaluation, and the management of research and development labs and organizations. LISH aims to understand how labs operate, what makes them productive or efficient, and what are the drivers, behaviors, and motivations behind innovative work. Browse LISH’s Science of Science projects and papers below.


Kevin Boudreau, Tom Brady, Ina Ganguli, Patrick Gaule, Eva Guinan, Tony Hollenberg, and Karim R. Lakhani. 2017. “A Field Experiment on Search Costs and the Formation of Scientific Collaborations.” The Review of Economics and Statistics, 99, 4, Pp. 565-576. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Scientists typically self-organize into teams, matching with others to collaborate in the production of new knowledge. We present the results of a field experiment conducted at Harvard Medical School to understand the extent to which search costs affect matching among scientific collaborators. We generated exogenous variation in search costs for pairs of potential collaborators by randomly assigning individuals to 90-minute structured information-sharing sessions as part of a grant funding opportunity for biomedical researchers. We estimate that the treatment increases the baseline probability of grant co-application of a given pair of researchers by 75% (increasing the likelihood of a pair collaborating from 0.16 percent to 0.28 percent), with effects higher among those in the same specialization. The findings indicate that matching between scientists is subject to considerable frictions, even in the case of geographically-proximate scientists working in the same institutional context with ample access to common information and funding opportunities.

Andrea Blasco, Olivia S. Jung, Karim R. Lakhani, and Michael E. Menietti. 2017. “Incentives for Public Goods Inside Organizations: Field Experimental Evidence”.Abstract

We report results of a natural field experiment conducted at a medical organization that sought contribution of public goods (i.e., projects for organizational improvement) from its 1200 employees. Offering a prize for winning submissions boosted participation by 85 percent without affecting the quality of the submissions. The effect was consistent across gender and job type. We posit that the allure of a prize, in combination with mission-oriented preferences, drove participation. Using a simple model, we estimate that these preferences explain about a third of the magnitude of the effect. We also find that these results were sensitive to the solicited person’s gender.

Olivia Jung, Andrea Blasco, and Karim R. Lakhani. 2017. “Perceived Organizational Support For Learning and Contribution to Improvement by Frontline Staff.” Academy of Management Proceedings, 2017, 1. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Utilizing suggestions from clinicians and administrative staff is associated with process and quality improvement, organizational climate that promotes patient safety, and added capacity for learning. However, realizing improvement through innovative ideas from staff depends on their ability and decision to contribute. We hypothesized that staff perception of whether the organization promotes learning is positively associated with their likelihood to engage in problem solving and speaking up. We conducted our study in a cardiology unit in an academic hospital that hosted an ideation contest that solicited frontline staff to suggest ideas to resolve issues encountered at work. Our primary dependent variable was staff participation in ideation. The independent variables measuring perception of support for learning were collected using the validated 27-item Learning Organization Survey (LOS). To examine the relationships between these variables, we used analysis of variance, logistic regression, and predicted probabilities. We also interviewed 16 contest participants to explain our quantitative results. The study sample consisted of 30% of cardiology unit staff (n=354) that completed the LOS. In total, 72 staff submitted 138 ideas, addressing a range of issues including patient experience, cost of care, workflow, utilization, and access. Figuring out the cost of procedures in the catheterization laboratory and creating a smartphone application that aids patients to navigate through appointments and connect with providers were two of the ideas that won the most number of votes and funding to be implemented in the following year. Participation in ideation was positively associated with staff perception of supportive learning environment. For example, one standard deviation increase in perceived welcome for differences in opinions was associated with a 43% increase in the odds of participating in ideation (OR=1.43, p=0.04) and 55% increase in the odds of suggesting more than one idea (OR=1.55, p=0.09). Experimentation, a practice that supports learning, was negatively associated with ideation (OR=0.36, p=0.02), and leadership that reinforces learning was not associated with ideation. The perception that new ideas are not sufficiently considered or experimented could have motivated staff to participate, as the ideation contest enables experimentation and learning. Interviews with ideation participants revealed that the contest enabled systematic bottom-up contribution to quality improvement, promoted a sense of community, facilitated organizational exchange of ideas, and spread a problem-solving oriented mindset. Enabling frontline staff to feel that their ideas are welcome and that making mistakes is permissible may increase their likelihood to engage in problem solving and speaking up, contributing to organizational improvement.

Andrea Blasco, Olivia S. Jung, Karim R. Lakhani, and Michael Menietti. 2016. Motivating Effort in Contributing to Public Goods Inside Organizations: Field Experimental Evidence. National Bureau of Economic Research. Publisher's VersionAbstract

We investigate the factors driving workers’ decisions to generate public goods inside an organization through a randomized solicitation of workplace improvement proposals in a medical center with 1200 employees. We find that pecuniary incentives, such as winning a prize, generate a threefold increase in participation compared to non-pecuniary incentives alone, such as prestige or recognition. Participation is also increased by a solicitation appealing to improving the workplace. However, emphasizing the patient mission of the organization led to countervailing effects on participation. Overall, these results are consistent with workers having multiple underlying motivations to contribute to public goods inside the organization consisting of a combination of pecuniary and altruistic incentives associated with the mission of the organization.

Kevin J. Boudreau and Karim R. Lakhani. 2016. “Innovation Experiments: Researching Technical Advance, Knowledge Production, and the Design of Supporting Institutions.” In Innovation Policy and the Economy, 16: Pp. 135-167. Chicago, IL. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This paper discusses several challenges in designing field experiments to better understand how organizational and institutional design shapes innovation outcomes and the production of knowledge. We proceed to describe the field experimental research program carried out by our Crowd Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University to clarify how we have attempted to address these research design challenges. This program has simultaneously solved important practical innovation problems for partner organizations, like NASA and Harvard Medical School (HMS), while contributing research advances, particularly in relation to innovation contests and tournaments. We conclude by proceeding to highlight the opportunity for the scholarly community to develop a “science of innovation” that utilized field experiments as means to generate knowledge.

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