Character  &  Context

Outside the Academy: Forging Meaningful Partnerships for Conducting Field Experiments

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For personality and social psychologists, the entire world can be a laboratory.  Customer-facing businesses represent near unlimited possibilities to apply psychological insights and experimentally test interventions. But how can social and personality psychology researchers form the critical partnerships that allow for such mutually beneficial collaborations?

Andrea Dinneen, Senior Behavioral Researcher at the Common Cents Lab in the Center for Advanced Hindsight shared strategies for finding field experiment partners as part of the Intervention Science pre-conference. Using these strategies, Dinneen and her colleagues have been able to recruit and partner with companies to conduct field experiments to improve financial well-being.

In order to efficiently recruit and vet potential field partners, Dinneen recommends organizing workshops. These trainings can share psychological insights on a particular topic – for example, one such workshop might share research on the psychology of budgeting, which financial organizations can then leverage to improve their products for their customers. Hand-selecting and inviting businesses to participate in these workshops not only provides value to the businesses, but also allows researchers to vet many potential partners in the same room at once. Together, businesses and researchers can explore whether a collaboration would be mutually beneficial. Further, these workshops help to establish reciprocity between researchers and potential field partners and showcase researcher credibility and expertise.

Once potential field experiment partners have been identified, how can researchers help get business-minded collaborators thinking a little bit like experimental psychologists? For this, Dinneen and colleagues turn to the Open Science Framework (OSF). Modeled on the OSF’s documents for pre-registration, the Center for Advanced Hindsight team invites their collaborators to reflect on what the effects of a specific intervention might look like for their customers. These collaborators then think through how they would change their particular products or features of their product if they found these expected effects. This exercise not only helps these partners outside of academia think realistically and concretely about what effect sizes might look like, it also helps these partners pre-commit to applying insights from the study in actionable ways.    

Many personality and social psychology researchers want to utilize organizations and infrastructure already present in the community to test psychological theory and make real-world change. But forging and maintaining field experiment collaborations can be challenging for researchers used to working only with colleagues in academia. Thinking carefully and innovatively about how to find and maintain these mutually-beneficial partnerships is one way personality and social psychology researchers can help their work reach a larger, more diverse audience.


By: Kari Leibowitz. Kari Leibowitz is a 4th year PhD student in social psychology and a Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow. Kari works in the Stanford Mind & Body Lab and her research involves leveraging psycho-social forces to improve healthcare experiences and outcomes.

Talk: “A Practical Guide to Finding Good Field Experiment Partners: Insights from Interventions to Improve Financial Wellbeing,” part of the Intervention Science pre-conference held Thursday, February 7, 2019.

Speaker: Andrea Dinneen, Senior Behavioral Researcher, Common Cents Lab, Center for Advanced Hindsight

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Character & Context is the blog of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). With more than 7,500 members, SPSP is the largest organization of social psychologists and personality psychologists in the world.   

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