Many organisations rely on prosocial behaviours – choices that benefit others but have a personal cost – to achieve their objectives. For instance, foundations rely on charitable contributions for funding, governments partly rely on voluntary compliance for tax revenue, and employers rely on voluntary referrals for hiring. Because such prosocial behaviours have positive externalities by definition, increasing such behaviour can improve welfare. What are the most effective policies to encourage prosocial behaviour?
To figure out, Chetty et al (not sure why Al gets all the credit) run an experiemnt on academic reviewers for the journal of Public Ecnomics. They find...drum roll...if you pay reviewers to meet deadlines, they meet deadlines. Here's how they explain their findings:
Shorter deadlines ‘nudged’ referees to submit reports earlier. Cash incentives also reduced turnaround times, suggesting that any ‘crowding out’ of intrinsic motivation is small. Social incentives – publication of turnaround times – were more effective for tenured referees than shorter deadlines or cash incentives.
And they make recommendations too...
Our findings offer three lessons for improving the peer review process.
1. Shorter deadlines are extremely effective in improving the speed of the review process. Moreover, shorter deadlines generate little adverse effect on referees’ agreement rates, the quality of referee reports, or performance at other journals. Indeed, based on the results of the experiment, the Journal of Public Economics now uses a four-week deadline for all referees.
2. Cash incentives can generate significant improvements in review times and also increase referees’ willingness to submit reviews. However, it is important to pair cash incentives with reminders shortly before the deadline. Some journals, such as the American Economic Review, have been offering cash incentives without providing referees reminders about the incentives. In this situation, sending reminders would improve referee performance at little additional cost.
3. Social incentives can also improve referee performance, especially among subgroups such as tenured professors who are less responsive to deadlines and cash payments. Light social incentives, such as the Journal of Financial Economics’ policy of posting referee times by referee name, have small effects on review times. Stronger forms of social pressure – such as active management by editors during the review process in the form of personalised letters and reminders – could potentially be highly effective in improving efficiency.
More generally, our results reject the view that the review process in economics is much slower than in other fields, such as the natural sciences, purely because economics papers are more complex or difficult to review. Instead, our findings show that small changes in journals’ policies can substantially improve the peer review process at little cost.
In other words, economists respond rationally to incentives and the reason we are so slow at reviewing is that there is little incentive to be faster.
Show me the money!