From the working paper draft:
In order to test how prize structure impacts the quantity and quality of innovation, we ran a randomized control trial (RCT) within an innovation contest that we hosted in partnership with Thermo Fisher Scientific, a large biotechnology company with a market cap in excess of \$100 billion US. The innovation contest was hosted by their Mexico office in Baja California and was open to all non-management employees of the firm as well as employees at other technology firms in the region. To increase participation and help foster Thermo Fisher's recruitment interests, it was also promoted to STEM students at local universities.
The contest was advertised over a 45-day period. Promotion materials included information about the general topic area of the innovation challenge, the competition dates, and the total prize purse available to participants. The promotion materials also informed potential participants that the contest was being co-hosted by UC San Diego and Thermo Fisher, and that it was part of a research study on motivations for innovation. We were required to disclose that the contest was part of a research study by UC San Diego's Institutional Review Board. We opted to disclose during recruitment rather than after the competition was complete because ex post disclosure would require that participants are given the option to remove themselves from the study and we were concerned that this could lead to selective attrition based on competition outcomes. Participation was open to individuals or teams of up to three people.
At the start of the competition, the innovation challenge details were announced and participants were given 54 hours (from 6 pm on a Friday until midnight the following Sunday) to submit their entries. Submissions were made through DevPost, a popular commercial platform for hosting software innovation contests. The challenge was focused on addressing local health technology needs, with the specifics determined through a consultative process between the study authors and research managers at Thermo Fisher to ensure commercial relevance to the industry. The contest problem was chosen to ensure that reasonable progress could be made during the time allotted for the competition.
In particular, participants were provided with the following text at the opening of the competition window: Mexico has many small health care providers and research and clinical laboratories that, on their own, cannot afford expensive equipment that would allow them to provide the highest quality care possible. We believe that the proliferation of digital and cloud technologies can help to solve this problem. We are asking you to show us how you think these technologies can be used to support access to high-quality medical equipment even for these small health care providers and labs.
To generate random variation in the prize structure, we randomly assigned participants to one of two prize menus both with a total of 15,000USD available to contest winners. The first prize structure was a winner-takes-all design in which a single prize of 15,000USD would be given to the highest ranked submission. The second prize structure, provided awards to the ten highest ranked submissions. Submissions ranked first, second, third, and fourth received $6,000, $3,000, $1,500, and $900 respectively, and submissions ranked fifth to tenth received $600. Given an equal number of competitors in both study arms, the expected return for would be innovators is identical across the two arms, but competitors under the winner-takes-all arm faced a higher risk of failure.
Randomization was performed following the enrollment deadline and stratified by team and individual participants. Participants were given information about the prize structure they would face at the same time they were provided details on the innovation challenge. Judges were told about the different prize structures at the same time the participants were to ensure they did not disclose the prize structures to participants beforehand. The exception to this was one of the Thermo Fisher judges who was involved in the planning of the contest and was aware there would be two contest arms. However, she was not told who would be placed in which arm, and we have no evidence that she disclosed any information about the contest prizes to participants. To avoid concerns that participants would feel betrayed if they only learned about the alternative prize structures through incidental conversations with other competitors, we disclosed the design upfront. Participants were told that the contest organizers had disagreed over the optimal prize structure and, as a result, had decided to randomly divide participants into two separate and equally sized groups with distinct prize structures. They were also assured that they would only be judged relative to others facing the same prize structure and therefore would only be competing with half of the total participant pool.
Participants were instructed to turn in their complete or incomplete computer scripts, written explanations, and any other non-script output by the end of the competition deadline in order to be eligible for a prize. Contest submissions were judged by six industry experts, including high-level managers at Thermo Fisher, Teradata (a software company headquartered in San Diego, California), and computer science faculty who actively consult with technology companies in the Baja region. Submissions were judged on a 5-point scale of across five, equally weighted categories: novelty relative to existing products on the market, functionality, user friendliness, the scope of use cases, and the degree to which it addresses the innovation challenge.
All submissions were reviewed by 3 of the 6 judges to whom they were randomly assigned. To ensure comparability of judge rankings across prize structures, all submissions were pooled before being randomly assigned to judges. All judges were blinded to all information about the incentive structure under which proposals were submitted. As advertised to participants, awards were determined by rank within each study arm.
Our experiment design allows us to control for selection into contest participation based on prize structure. In addition to deciding whether to enroll in the competition prior to prize structure randomization, all participants were required to decide whether they would like to compete as a team or as an individual before prize structures were allocated. They also completed a pre-contest survey under the same conditions. This timing ensures the following three features in our empirical analysis: 1) we are able to observe differences in effort and performance across prize structures among statistically identical populations; 2) our measures of participant characteristics are not biased by the experimental treatment; and 3) selection into teams is not affected by the prize structures.