Joseph Thiebes (thiebes) wrote in clerk_house,
Joseph Thiebes
thiebes
clerk_house

The Fraternal Dilemma, Part 2

Cross-posted from my own LJ, Aug-19-2005 ev.

Diagnosing Solutions

Local bodies around the country have employed a variety of ingenious strategies to solve the social dilemmas that they face. Many of these are directed at raising participation in dues programs, but not all. I'd like to take a brief look at some of these strategies in light of game theory, as explained in The Fraternal Dilemma. (If you're not familiar with the jargon of game theory, read that first.)

If you or your local body have put together a strategy to encourage volunteerism and contribution, and you'd like to see it modeled here, feel free to post about it.

  • Metering
    As mentioned in The Fraternal Dilemma, many local bodies use metering extensively. For example, Sekhet-Maat Lodge asks for $5 contributions at all its weekly events, from those who are not contributing through our membership program; discounts are given to members for major events; access to the microfilm research archive comes at no cost to members, while others must pay by the hour or year for access; etc. In short, a number of resources are available to members which others must pay for, on a metered basis.

    Cooperation = participating in membership program, paying dues
    MB = the membership benefits offered by the local body
    T = the ability of the local body to pay its bills and continue to exist at its current level of financial responsibility
    Sr. A.U.M. Cooperates Sr. A.U.M. Defects
    Most Others
    Cooperate
    Benefit = MB + T
    Cost = Dues
    Benefit = T
    Cost = 0
    Most Others
    Defect
    Benefit = 0
    Cost = Dues
    Benefit = 0
    Cost = 0

    This clearly illustrates that membership benefits are a way promoting mutual cooperation. MB+T is a better payoff than T alone. By placing mutual cooperation as the highest value, the local body transforms Prisoner's Dilemma into an Assurance Game. However, if an individual does not value the membership benefits, or values them less than they value the cost of dues, that individual is still playing Prisoner's Dilemma, since they get T as long as most others cooperate.

    Thus the Cycle of Disuse can begin, as an individual who defects is likely to become psychologically invested in their choice to defect, because consciously or unconsciously their choice has placed a value on MB which is less than the cost of dues. This effect of investment can be further entrenched if the individual is vocal about their opinion, since most of us feel internal pressure to believe what we say. Furthermore, a person who devalues the membership benefits is likely to not pay the metered rate for the same benefits, since the metered rate is often higher than the dues amount; and since many of those benefits have to do with attendance, the person who defects is less likely to attend events, thereby reducing first-hand experience which might otherwise give them reason to change their opinion about the value of the benefits. On the other hand, the exact same effects are felt by those who cooperate, with the opposite results: cooperators feel invested in their choice to cooperate, and attend more frequently, which generally allows their appreciation of the benefits (as well as the overall value of mutual cooperation and the intrinsic reward, T) to grow.

  • Timely Goals
    Some local bodies have a monthly, quarterly, or yearly goal to raise a specific amount of money for a pre-defined purpose. In many (if not all) cases, again, these efforts are applied to the payment of rent and other bills by the local body. In these cases, I call this kind of timely goal a negative step function, because instead of offering greater payoff after a certain amount is raised, meeting the goal only allows the payoff to remain the same, while failing to reach the goal causes the payoff to drop dramatically. The interesting thing about this approach is not so much in the payoff grid, but in the unique way that it uses the production function to raise awareness of impending risks. The "negative step function" is not quite a Grim Trigger strategy but bears a striking resemblance to it, due simply to the reality that local bodies must pay their bills to continue at their current level.

    Cooperation = contributing to help meet the timely goal
    T = the ability of the local body to pay its bills and continue to exist at its current level of financial responsibility
    Sr. A.U.M. Cooperates Sr. A.U.M. Defects
    Most Others
    Cooperate
    Benefit = T
    Cost = Dues
    Benefit = T
    Cost = 0
    Most Others
    Defect
    Benefit = 0
    Cost = Dues
    Benefit = 0
    Cost = 0


  • Scarlet Woman Fall Fundraiser
    The above graphic was placed on blogs and websites to show support and encourage others.
    Last Fall, Scarlet Woman Lodge launched a web-based fund drive to raise funds to pay their bills and keep their lights on. There are a number of interesting features of this effort, as follows.

    I believe this may be the first attempt by a local body to perform a fund drive over the internet (not counting sales or paid-admission events), making appeal to initiates worldwide rather than asking only locals. This is interesting in part because people outside Austin will have far less opportunity than those in Austin to benefit from what SWL was trying to accomplish. While I don't know whether SWL was counting on an outpouring of support from outside their valley, certainly some long distance contributions did come in, and this demonstrates what the officers of SWL may have suspected: that some people value the existence of SWL regardless of any personal benefit they might gain from it—so much so that they are willing to send money. The payoff grid for this strategy is exactly the same as the above for timely goals, but consider the difference in the way that locals will value T compared to someone outside the valley.

    Another interesting thing about this campaign is the graphic, shown above, that donors could put on their websites and blogs. By doing this, SWL provided a means for cooperators to identify themselves, thereby encouraging a group identity to form, and creating a perception of potential group reciprocity. These effects could have been slightly diluted by the fact that people outside the local body could contribute, if any individuals initially equated the "group identity" with the membership of SWL or the local initiates.

    The SWL website also showed the total amount raised as time went by. Communication about the amount raised so far (and the number of contributors via the Bettie Page graphic) has ambiguous effects, as described in The Fraternal Dilemma, Part 1. Consider the following potential scenarios, for example:

    • Sr. A.U.M. sees that most people have already posted the "I gave" banner, but very little funds have been raised. She may conclude that the goal will not be met, and withhold her contribution.
    • She sees many people posting the graphic, and much of the funds have been raised. She might conclude that her contribution is not needed, or she might conclude that she can really make a difference (especially if the Lodge is close to reaching its target).
    • She sees very few people posting the graphic, and much of the funds have been raised. She is likely to conclude that since many have yet to contribute, but the Lodge is relatively close to the target, her money is not needed.
    • She sees very few people posting the graphic, and very little money has been raised. In this scenario she may go either way. The thrill of being among the first to post the graphic may serve as an additional motivator toward contributing.

    As you can see, while giving donors the opportunity to identify themselves can stimulate group identity, and showing the amount raised illustrates the progress on the step function, these approaches probably had both positive and negative effects on the campaign.

    Like the timely goals above, this fund drive is an example of a negative step function. We do not have any information about the end result of this campaign, as the website did not continue to provide updates. Presumably, this lack of communication is a signal that the goal amount was never reached.

  • Sekhet-Maat Library Fund Drive
    Sekhet-Maat Lodge conducted several fund drives to pay the debt it owed on its microfilm research archive furniture and equipment. The final drive occurred on LJOTO.

    This drive was similar to Scarlet Woman's Fall Fundraiser in these respects: 1) it was targeting people on the internet, outside the local valley; 2) there was a specific goal amount to raise; and 3) the post was updated each time donations came in, so that people could see the progress toward the goal. The differences between this fund drive and Scarlet Woman's were substantial, however: 1) there was no direct benefit to meeting the goal, and no loss of benefits in failing to meet the goal (repossession was extremely unlikely and the debt could have been left in the hands of local initiates), 2) donors did not have an easy means to identify themselves, so no group identity was possible, 3) the amount to be raised in this drive was only about $500, and 4) the money was being raised to pay for actual objects that the Lodge could keep, rather than to pay recurring rental or service bills. I am probably missing some differences, but the point is that this is a very different kind of fund drive even though in some ways it may seem similar. In fact, some of the differences even make it seem somewhat unlikely that the drive could succeed at all. Quite to my own surprise and to the delight of the Lodge Librarian, the fund drive was a success. In fact the Lodge overshot its goal by about 40% within 24 hours, and the drive got picked up as a news item by LAShTAL.com. Contributions came from the US, UK, and Germany.

    The fact that there was no direct benefit to accomplishing the goal in this fund drive makes it rather pointless to draw a payoff grid. As a side note, however, there were indirect benefits to the accomplishment of the goal. Perhaps the greatest of these is simply the fact that having reached the goal, the money in the library fund can now be used to make further improvements to the library.

    Was the success of this drive simply a result of the goal being more easily attainable, that people felt they could really make a difference? Perhaps some were concerned that we could lose the archive, though such an eventuality was never suggested? Certainly it is a valuable resource and a unique collection throughout the world, and many were probably at least partially motivated by a love and appreciation for the archive and the Lodge as a whole.

  • Scale the Fence Campaign
    Scale the Fence: Support Your Local O.T.O.
    The above graphic is currently being used on blogs and websites to show solidarity in supporting local bodies.
    Sekhet-Maat Lodge launched this web-based campaign yesterday [Aug-18-2005 ev], which is not tied to any specific local body, but rather designed to give anyone who supports their local body an opportunity to show their support. Many local bodies are facing difficulty in getting broad-based support for their projects, and this difficulty is referred to here as the "social fence" that the campaign is encouraging people to scale. Like the Scarlet Woman Fall Fundraiser, individual contributors are given the ability to identify themselves, which may facilitate a group identity, moral suasion, even potentially group reciprocity and competition. The net motivational effect of this campaign seems likely to be directly related to how many contributors post the graphic. However, it is hard to imagine a possible way to measure the effects of this campaign at all.

  • Selective Sponsorship
    This is utilized with varying rates of success at some local bodies. One thing that makes this strategy unique is that it can manifest without intervention by the officers of a local body. The basic idea is that if enough initiates individually agree to only sponsor those who pull their weight through volunteerism and/or financial contribution, a barrier is effectively raised that prevents people from free riding. Because of this, selective sponsorship can be seen as partaking of both structural and motivational strategies. Structurally, if this strategy is successfully employed, it eliminates the dilemma altogether. People who are taking initiation must be cooperating or they would not be there. Motivationally, this strategy strongly reinforces group identity and group reciprocity. It would be an ideal strategy but for one problem: each individual deciding whether or not to limit their sponsorships in this way face ... you guessed it, a social dilemma.

    Cooperation = limiting one's personal sponsorship to those that pay their dues
    S = established culture of sponsorship, effectively eliminating dilemma over dues
    I = increased possibility of being asked to sponsor
    D = decreased possibility of being asked to sponsor
    C = variable social costs such as damage to friendships, diminished influence, etc.
    Sr. A.U.M. Cooperates Sr. A.U.M. Defects
    Most Others
    Cooperate
    Benefit = S
    Cost = C (negligible)
    Benefit = S + I
    Cost = C (moderate)
    Most Others
    Defect
    Benefit = 0
    Cost = D + C (significant)
    Benefit = 0
    Cost = 0

    One thing that is interesting about this dilemma is that it faces somewhat of a grim trigger because participation must be nearly 100% to create an effective barrier to participation by free riders. Even if participation is high in a particular local valley, a candidate who knows people elsewhere can get them as sponsors. Once a local valley has two or more people who do not cooperate with this strategy, the usefulness of the strategy becomes questionable.

  • Leaping Laughter Dues Mandate
    Leaping Laughter attempted to implement a requirement that anyone taking initiation at their Oasis must be a dues paying member of some local body. Like selective sponsorship, this is an attempt to change the structure of the game to eliminate the dilemma. This is by far the most robust approach to that particular issue so far, but unfortunately this kind of approach is not possible under current regulations. Many other local bodies, seeing this new policy, were poised to implement it themselves until word came through that it was not permissible. When that happened, calls for mandated local dues reached a fever pitch and Sabazius issued his strong recommendation that all initiates become members of a local body. Not much more to say about this, but kudos to Leaping Laughter for capturing the zeitgeist and directing it so potently.

Tags: diagnosis, game theory, solutions
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