Kim Sarnoff and Shotaro Nakamura at work in the research office


Understanding motivation, behaviour and impact in private action for public benefit

We live in a time where there is a tremendous desire to do good, but very little to discipline that instinct and to maximise its positive impact on society. 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 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 analyses of the ways in which the impact and effectiveness of such activities for the public benefit might be defined, measured, and enhanced. This also includes the theoretical underpinnings for such activities and their relationship to market failure.


Academic conferences

Every year the Marshall Institute host two research conferences along with a range of more informal workshops between some of the best researchers in the world.  

Learn more about the Economics of Social Sector Organisations conference

Learn more about our LSE Research Symposium

Research funded by The Marshall Institute 

Find out more about LSE faculty and LSE PhD students who are doing work core to the Marshall Instiute's mission. 

Learn more

Our model of research

At the Marshall Institute we have adopted a unique model of research, which we refer to as co-generation of knowledge. We develop our questions and interventions together with our partners, taking advantage of their on-the-ground knowledge and using existing systems and institutional structures. Through this process, we are able to create knowledge of both academic and practical import. The long-term relationships that result make possible the direct incorporation of findings into policy.

Watch a video with Nava Ashraf and Oriana Bandiera about how co-generation of knowledge works in practise

Watch a video with Alvin Roth and Nava Ashraf on co-generation of knowledge


Examples of research projects 

Altruistic capital - how altruism develops and is shaped by a person's choices and his or her environment.

The hybrid economy - research into the emerging fourth sector.

Negotiating a better future - what beneficiary led research looks like in practice.

Money and the language of God - primary motivations in philanthropy and the pursuit of a more just economic system.

Hiring do-gooders or go-getters - attracting talent to improve public service delivery in Zambia.


Conversations with leading researchers in the field of private action for public benefit

Al Roth on how markets can be used to benefit society

Jean Tirole on what drives people to engage in altruistic behaviour

Luigi Zingales on the role of capitalism in private action for public benefit