Wednesday 8 September 2010

Rewards for information sharing may be cultural?

In this post, I suggested that incentivising information sharing may be a bad thing to do.

However Samuel Drieesen asked "Hi Nick, I enjoy reading your posts! My comment on this post is a bit late... First of all, thanks for this post. I agree with it. But during my vacation I came up with this post.  I'd love to hear your thoughts! In short: why does a financial reward help to solve crimes, but doesn't help to encourage knowledge sharing in organizations"?

Samuel was referring to a program on Netherlands TV where the police offer rewards for people to solve crimes.

Here's my thinking on the matter.

Sure, they offer rewards for information, but how well do those rewards work? The BBC Crimewatch program has operated for many years without offering any rewards (though of course the individual and corporate victims sometimes offer rewards).

The questions this would raise for me are, firstly, whether the offer of rewards increases the number of false positives or spurious information, and secondly, whether you really want a society that only offers information about criminal activity if they are paid to do it.

I dont know the answer to the first - it would be good to have some research available. All I could find was the following;
Do rewards help police solve crimes?

Detectives hunting the killers of two Chinese students in Newcastle have decided to offer a £5,000 reward for information leading to the killers' capture.

But do rewards work? The charity Crimestoppers provides the most rewards in Britain for people informing on criminals. Even people reporting crimes anonymously can claim, without their identity being revealed. But the charity says that even with its anonymity selling point "there is a notable year-on-year decrease in rewards being paid out". Hannah Daws, for Crimestoppers, said: "In 2007/08 less than 1% of informants claimed the reward they are entitled to of at least £1,000. The key motivating factor for people to phone our number is that they are vulnerable and feel trapped."

In 1994, the charity paid out a peak of nearly £121,000 in rewards, but the figure now is a tenth of that, with no less information being offered. Daws said: "We have downplayed the rewards in our marketing and concentrated our messages on 'the communities doing the right thing'.

"An interesting comparison is the US Crimestoppers programme, where the rewards payout is around 70%."

For a reward to be offered, an investigating force applies to Crimestoppers, which puts up the money. Private individuals or newspapers can also offer rewards. One of the biggest currently on offer is £50,000 from a private individual - Michael Ashcroft, the former Tory chairman who set up Crimestoppers - for information leading to the killer of the BBC newsreader Jill Dando.

Rewards can revive media interest in a case, but they are no guarantee of success. Ashcroft set up Crimestoppers after offering a reward to find the killers of PC Keith Blakelock, who was hacked to death during the 1985 Broadwater Farm riots. More than 20 years on, despite the reward, that murder remains unsolved.
Vikram Dodd

So in the UK, its more about "doing the right thing" and less about the money, whereas in the US it's the opposite?

Is that it? Down to culture? Are the UK and US really that different?

Or is there a systemic difference between the way Crimestoppers operates in the two countries?

I don't know, but there is enough in this article to allow us to challenge the simple idea that rewards drive information sharing.


Unknown said...

Thanks for your post about my question. Interesting post you point to. I'm going to see if we can find more on this topic!

Nick Milton said...

Let me know what you find, Samuel; I would be very interested.

Anonymous said...

Well what I have seen research on is the neuropsychological effect.

Fungible rewards light up the nucleus accumbens and you can apparently not operate that and the posterior superior temporal sulcus at the same time, which is required for sociability and benevolence.
So if you offer a reward you will tend to suppress benevolence at a neurological level.

Would have to scratch around a bit to find that research again.

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