Updated: Jul 13, 2019
A harsh life lesson came through my research for my Master's thesis and I was again reminded of this in a social experiment I recently happened across. People seem to serve themselves before they serve others. I don't think it's a bad thing; I definitely think it's something that links to our survival mechanism. What are we told in the emergency procedure before taking off on a flight? If we are traveling with a child, we should secure our oxygen mask before securing our child's.
My research question was: Which Group is Better? At the time I was deeply invested in sensory integration as an occupational therapist, so I compared a sensory-motor approach with an auditory integration approach. My research was in a local school and I was working alongside specialist teachers whom I enjoyed and admired immensely. Our relationship had developed over the previous two years as we had formed the sensory-motor groups in the school and delivered with success. Through this same two years I grew interested in auditory integration and was using it more and more in other areas of my practice. I approached the school about doing a comparison study and they agreed. As the data collection phase concluded and I started the process of analysis, I looked at the kids results and knew there was no doubt; auditory integration was comparative better. My research took an unexpected twist when I realised I could not exclude one big obvious reality.
The sensory-motor group was prominent in the school. The group was conducted in a highly visual location, the kids had heaps of fun and classroom teachers reported improvements. I conducted these groups side-by-side with the specialist teachers and we learned from each other. The group had status in the school, and the teachers had peer recognition and were learning. It was win-win-win. When it came to the auditory integration group, it wasn't really a group. It consisted of organising a box of heaphones and CD's to travel to different classroom, so each child could listen in the classroom while doing their work. Technically, the auditory approach was more inclusive and did not disrupt student timetable.
When it came time for data analysis, it was obvious the pre- and post-test results on the kids for auditory integration yielded much better results. But, when I came back to the research question 'Which Group is Better', I couldn't help but think: the one that will happen.
Both groups were reliant on the specialist teachers. In the sensory-motor group, the teachers were learning and there was associated social status. These were not a feature in the delivery of the auditory group and the teachers did not like keeping on top of the scheduling associated with moving the equipment from class to class. Although I was assured by the teachers they wanted the best for their students, when they were directly questioned about which group they would continue, they responded with the sensory-motor. I didn't much like the results, but I concluded that the better group was the sensory-motor group was better because it had more chance of happening.
This same theme of serving self before others also leapt out as me as I was reading about the
2009 DARPA Red Balloon Challenge (DARPA is short for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). Although I was interested in the challenge as a social networking experiment, I was particularly drawn to the strategy of the winning team.
In the challenge, DARPA had located 10 red weather balloons across North America and offered a prize of $40,000 to the winning team. From the get-go, there were two leading contenders: the MIT Red Balloon Challenge Team and the GTRI “I Spy a Red Balloon” Team. They used slightly different methods for accessing social media, but ultimately they were both very effect networking strategies. It seems incentive was the difference. The MIT team put out a recursive incentive structure, which meant people could receive a proportion of the winnings with the rest going to charity, while the GTRI team excluded the personal incentive. They, instead, appealed to altruism by declaring all winnings would go to charity.
Although I enjoy the 'Audrey Hepburns' of our world, who give up personal profit, fame and status for something they believe in, they seem to be the exception rather than the rule. In the real world people are driven to serve their personal needs and incentives are a way of meeting these needs.
This is not a judgement, it's an observation. Of course, leading an organisation in the disability sector my role is to think about these dynamics. To serve our clients we need to serve our people and our value is in the qualities of our people. They are the ones who ‘wow’ our kids and families and deliver or connect clients to something that makes their life better. Our people are our brand ambassadors and our capital.
So the question of incentive? Differentiating good from excellent in a capped NDIS pricing structure that is closely aligned to the award, means we've been set a challenge.