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Interview: Marijke Leliveld and Hans Risselada on collaborating to study charity giving

Date:12 February 2018
Author:Riepko Buikema
Marijke Leliveld and Hans Risselada
Marijke Leliveld and Hans Risselada

A good bottle of wine with an unusual label stands proudly on the table. It says ‘Cheers!’, followed by a summary of an academic article. The message couldn’t be clearer. Marijke Leliveld and Hans Risselada have something to celebrate. Their interdisciplinary research into the dynamics of our charity donation behaviour has earned them a more than respectable open access publication in Science Advances.

Leliveld remembers every detail. She nearly fell off her chair when Steven Noordam, director of Kien market research bureau, unknowingly revealed an academic goldmine during his presentation. “He came to our Customer Insights Centre to talk about his company’s database. He just sort of mentioned that all the decisions that his panel members make about whether or not to donate had been carefully recorded. Over a very long period. I could hardly contain my excitement. All I could think was: MINE!,” laughs Leliveld. “I made an appointment with Steven and raced over to Hans: “If we get hold of that data, I’m going to need your help”. I’m useless with a dataset like that, and so our partnership was born.’ Risselada laughs: “Steven didn’t understand our excitement at first, but we were itching to get our hands on the data. Quantitative marketing, working with big datasets; that’s right up my street.”

Social psychologist Leliveld has an entirely different field of expertise and background. “In practice, these are fairly different worlds, even within the same marketing department. My focus is on consumer behaviour and I do a lot of experimental research in the lab here at the Faculty. I use different methods and read different academic journals from Hans, who deploys more econometric strategies.”

“The tricky part for Marijke was that our research was now based on historical data. For her, this was a different basic premise from working in a lab where you are pretty much in control. But we managed to get onto the same page so we could eventually analyse the recognisable aspects of consumer behaviour theories in this amazing dataset. Our joint quest also generated some very interesting discussions, for which we had to translate the language of experiments, which is new territory for me, into the language of my field,” says Risselada.

“I often had to explain exactly what I wanted to know so that Hans could understand and turn it into a sort of formula. Using theory from my field, we were able to make a number of predictions, and then Hans did his magic. “Can we test that?” I’d ask, and we usually could. That made things a lot easier”, says Leliveld.

“We had to trust each other’s expertise,” adds Risselada. “And that can be a bit weird, because it means that there are parts of the joint research project that you simply don’t understand.” Leliveld: “I still find the interaction terms in the paper very complicated. I understand them, but usually only if Hans explains them first. In the end, we were both able to present the entire research project at conferences in our own field without batting an eyelid, but we sometimes needed to check with each other first. We’ve learned so much from each other.”

The researchers would like to stress that although obviously very useful, a new interdisciplinary partnership like this is not all plain sailing. Risselada: “The structure of the articles in the two fields is very different. This forms a risk. We both want to shine in our own top journal, but this is almost impossible. To be blunt, we’re judged by our output in marketing journals. Aiming for interdisciplinary publication in a ‘science’- type journal means taking a risk. There aren’t very many journals in this category and I’m not familiar with the way the articles are arranged.”

Leliveld: “This style of writing was new to both of us. We had to go back to basics, back to the essence of our fields. In your own field, your colleagues know exactly what you mean. That’s very different in an interdisciplinary partnership. Having said that, it was the perfect opportunity to publish in a general journal rather than a specific marketing journal. We were able to reach a much wider audience. After a while, we came to the conclusion that this partnership and database really were unique and it was up to us to make the most of them.”

And it has certainly paid dividends. They are also grateful to their colleagues from the department, who were able to lend valuable support. “Once we’d got past the first round for Science Advances, we felt a lot of support from the department. Everyone was happy to think along, which made a great difference. We got the reviews from Science Advances just before our departmental outing. We couldn’t believe it and decided to take the reviews with us and discuss them with the others during the outing. So we ended up biking next to almost everyone in the department on Schiermonnikoog,” Risselada remembers with a smile.

Leliveld and Risselada are currently negotiating with an external party so that they can continue their successful partnership. “It’s made us hungry for more,” says Risselada. “Interdisciplinary collaboration is just great. Both parties can progress, you learn more and you complement each other. Working alongside someone who’s on the same page can makes things go faster, but if you don’t correct each other enough, it can lead to endless diversions and dead ends. We just walked in and out of each other’s offices and weren’t afraid to ask why something had been written down in a certain way, even if we’d been told three times before. It may not be the quickest way to get things done, but it’s important to take a step back every now and then and explain why you do what you do. It keeps you on your toes.” Leliveld: “This project was unique, which is what made it such fun. I didn’t develop a new theory, and he didn’t develop a new model. That’s a bit scary. We took a risk and it paid off. That’s what makes the project so cool. I’m buzzing!”

Participants of a research panel are rarely inclined to donate the financial reward for their efforts to a good cause. Marijke Leliveld and Hans Risselada researched 300,000 decisions by 20,000 individuals who were given the choice after completing a questionnaire whether to keep the financial reward themselves or to donate it to a good cause. This data is unique because it contains details covering a ten-month period during which participants completed several questionnaires and thus had to regularly choose between a good cause or their own wallet. Leliveld and Risselada’s research throws new light on the question of how previous decisions and the amounts at stake influence future donation behaviour.

First, Leliveld and Risselada found that no less than 89% of the researched participants always chose to keep the reward in their own pocket. Moreover, they ascertained that the people who sometimes donate and sometimes decide to keep the money themselves (known as ‘switchers’) also do not often change their minds. All of this is in line with moral consistency literature. However, they also found some evidence for moral licensing. If people had decided to donate the previous time, the chances of them choosing to keep the reward themselves this time increased if the amount they earned this time was higher than for the previous questionnaire.

Leliveld and Risselada published their research in Science Advances, the Open Access version of the renowned journal Science. “We were both determined to publish in Open Access. It’s the way to go at the moment,” says Leliveld. “Mainly because our research was partly funded by my Veni grant, but also because both of us are paid with tax-payers’ money.  I already had some experience of Open Access publishing with PLoSOne and Frontiers in Psychology. One of the advantages of publishing online in Science Advances is that there are fewer restrictions, on the length of the article, for example. Also, it’s great to be able share your research so easily and raise your profile by being visible in Google, for example.”

Admittedly, Open Access publishing isn’t a matter of course (yet). Risselada: “We noticed that it’s still quite a new thing at the UG. Within a couple of weeks of submitting our paper, we were sent a huge bill. It was a lot of money, and it took a lot of time and effort to get everything sorted out. At the same time, it’s valuable experience. We wrote our article in fairly simple language, so it can used for workshops in companies or charity organisations.”

Another bonus: the research is attracting plenty of attention. “The statistics show that a lot of people are downloading and reading our article. There seems to be a steady flow,” says Leliveld. “This is largely due to the type of journal, as well as the Open Access character. Science Advances is widely read, so it reaches more people than a trade journal aimed purely at marketeers or purely at social psychologists. Another advantage is that the publication appeared very soon after we’d finished our research, whereas it would normally take up to 18 months. This is a very clear difference between Open Access and “normal” publishing.”

Further reading:

Leliveld, M.C. and & H. Risselada (20 Sep 2017). Dynamics in charity donation decisions: Insights from a large longitudinal data set, Science Advances, 3, 9, 7 p., 1700077.