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Hawthorne effects: Past and future

Heather Lanthorn's picture

Maseru Shining Centuary TextilesI have two main points in this blog. The first is a public service announcement in the guise of history. Not so long ago, I heard someone credit the Hawthorne effect to an elusive, eponymous Dr. Hawthorne, of which, in this case, there is not one directly tied to these studies. The second is a call to expand our conception of Hawthorne effects – or really, observer or evaluator effects – in the practice of social science monitoring and evaluation.
Hawthorne history

The Hawthorne effect earned its name from the factory in which the study was sited: the Western Electric Company’s Hawthorne plant, near Chicago. These mid-1920s studies, carried out by MIT, Harvard, and the US National Research Council researchers were predicated on in-vogue ideas related to scientific management. Specifically, the researchers examined the effect of artificial illumination on worker productivity, raising and lowering the artificial light available to the women assembling electric relays (winding coils of wire) in a factory until the artificial light available was equivalent to moonlight.
The finding that made social science history (first in the nascent fields of industrial and organizational psychology and slowly trickling out from there) was that worker productivity increased when the amount of light was changed, and productivity decreased when the study ended. It was then suggested that the workers’ productivity increased because of the attention paid to them via the study, not because the light was altered.

Thus, the “Hawthorne effect” was named and acknowledged: the change in an outcome that can be attributed to behavioral responses among subjects/respondents/beneficiaries simply by virtue of being observed as part of an experiment or evaluation.

Quote of the Week: Peter Drucker

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"People who don't take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year."

- Peter Drucker, university professor, writer and business guru. He has written numerous books on management and business and is considered to be the "father of modern management". 

The Best Gift You Can Give

Mauricio Ríos's picture

As I was glancing through my twitter feed the other day I run into a Ted Talk on “Why work doesn't happen at work.”  Sort of intriguing, I thought, and probably full of good tips for most of us at the Bank Group.  

Jason Fried, the talk protagonist, does a lot of thinking about collaboration, productivity and the nature of work. He's the co-founder of 37signals, and co-author of the New York Times-best seller "Rework."

A software entrepreneur, Jason offers some practical suggestions on how we could turn the office into a more productive place.  After all, increasing productivity seems crucial to meet the twin goals of reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity.  

So, where do you really go when you need to get work done?  That’s the question that Jason has been asking people for about 10 years. 

Quote of the Week: Andrew Smithers

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"Management is not an intellectually satisfying occupation. It consists of telling people things that you’re not sure about and they don’t want to hear.”

- Andrew Smithers, Chairman and Founder of Smithers & Co., a leading advisor to investment managers on international asset allocation. He has contributed regularly to London Evening Standard, Sentaku Magazine and Nikkei Veritas, and he is the author of several books concerning investment, including his most recent, The Road to Recovery: How and Why Economic Policy Must Change (2013).

Redefining the Roles of NGOs

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

NGOs must strive for scale if they want to fulfil their roles as enablers and incubators in striving for development

As small but key players in the social development space, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) often worry about scaling up. If you have worked in this space, you’d surely agree that models of development interventions promoted by NGOs often remain small islands of success (if at all they do succeed). NGOs themselves are aware of the limited traction they achieve with policymakers due to their inability to influence or demonstrate change at a larger scale. Also, often organizations that are effective at a certain scale falter as they attempt to grow bigger in size. In this column, I restrict myself to service-delivery organizations—those that work in the areas of livelihoods, basic services, etc.—and not those that are involved in activism or rights-based social mobilization.
One view is that the very nature of a development NGO sometimes limits its ability to grow. The objective of an NGO should be to demonstrate: (1) proof of concept of their model; and (2) that implementing this through a government agency is indeed feasible. The latter is especially important, given that key stakeholders in the sector have by now realized and acknowledged that the state/government is at the forefront of the development battle. Scale is crucial in a country like India—it is expected of organizations that they will demonstrate consistent results over a long period of time, and at the same time, reach out to large numbers of people.