Kim Sarnoff and Shotaro Nakamura at work in the research office


Understanding motivation and behaviour in private action for public benefit

The challenge embraced by the Marshall Institute is to imbue private action for the public good with the science to maximise its impact.

This includes empirical research (qualitative and quantitative) into the motivation and behaviour of individuals or organisations whose activities are intended to serve the public benefit or the social good; the assessment of beneficiary needs to improve the process of generating public benefit and social good; and analyses of the ways in which the impact and effectiveness of such activities for the public good might be defined, measured, and enhanced. This also includes the theoretical underpinnings (economic, social, political, moral) for such activities, and their relationship to market failure and to government failure.

The individuals and organisations of interest include: individual donors and volunteers; beneficiaries of philanthropic actions; foundations; charities and non-governmental organisations; social entrepreneurs and private sector firms or corporations who have a social mission wider than the aim of simple profit-maximisation. The incentive structures for the relevant individuals and organisations in these areas are of particular interest, as are any innovative methods in the measurement and analysis of beneficiary need and impact, and of the implications for government policy.

Three initial streams of research are currently planned that correspond to the three key bodies involved in private action for the public good:

  • the organisation
  • the beneficiary (see example here)
  • the individuals giving their time, money or knowledge