OxLab Experiments

OxLab is an experimental laboratory for the social sciences, set up by Nir Vulkan (SBS) and Helen Margetts (OII) in 2006 with some funding from the University of Oxford Fell Fund. We have run a range of laboratory and field experiments from OxLab, from both economics and political science perspectives. Experiments include investigation into the effect of different information environments on collective action; the impact of different types of e-government provision on citizens' information seeking behaviour and deadline effects in auction design. Some of the outputs of the lab are available below.

The massive growth in Internet-mediated interactions between societies, governments and commercial organisations of all kinds creates a need for innovative methods to research online activity. Laboratory-based experiments where subjects are brought in and incentivized (via cash payments) to participate in games or information-seeking tasks on networked computers are an excellent way to develop such methodologies. Such laboratories have been used by experimental economists for some time, but the great expansion in online social and commercial activity means that as well as being more central to Economics research they have growing utility across other academic disciplines, particularly sociology, computer science and political science.

The lab is directed by Nir Vulkan (SBS) and Helen Margetts (OII) and managed by Lucy Bartlette (SBS), and Scott Hale (OII). Questions regarding OxLab should be directed to oxlab@oii.ox.ac.uk.

OxLab Outputs

Leadership without Leaders? Starters and Followers in Collective Action on the Internet

The Internet has been ascribed a prominent role in collective action, particularly with widespread use of social media. But most mobilisations fail. We investigate the characteristics of those few mobilisations that succeed and hypothesise that the presence of ‘starters’ with low thresholds for joining will determine whether a mobilisation achieves success, as suggested by threshold models. We use experimental data from public good games to identify personality types associated with willingness to start in collective action.

Leadership Without Leaders? Starters and Followers in Online Collective Action [Draft]

The Internet has been ascribed a prominent role in collective action, particularly with widespread use of social media. But most mobilisations fail. We investigate the characteristics of those few mobilisations that succeed and hypothesise that the presence of ‘starters’ with low thresholds for joining will determine whether a mobilisation achieves success, as suggested by threshold models. We use experimental data from public good games to identify personality types associated with willingness to start in collective action.

Leadership without Leaders? Starters and Followers in Online Collective Action

Presented by Helen Margetts and Peter John at the European Consortium of Political Research (ECPR) general conference in Rejkavik on 26 August 2011.

The Internet, Public Policy and Political Science: Collective Action, Governance and Citizen-Government Interactions in the Digital Era

We are currently engaged in a three-year research programme on The Internet, Public Policy and Political Science: Collective Action, Governance and Citizen-Government Interactions in the Digital Era, which started 1st April 2011.

More information about this project is available in the OII press release, and project description page.

Draft Paper: Applying Social Influence to Collective Action: Heterogeneous Personality Effects

Political scientists and economists commonly test for different kinds of social influence on collective action, particularly social pressure (visibility) and social information about the contributions of others (leading to conditional cooperation) but rarely in the same study design. This paper assesses the relative effect of these two kinds of social influence suggesting that their impact is best understood through hypothesizing for heterogeneous treatment effects based on personality.

Social Information and Political Participation on the Internet: an Experiment

This paper tests whether the social information provided by the internet affects the decision to participate in politics. In a field experiment, subjects could choose to sign petitions and donate money to support causes. Participants were randomized into treatment groups that received varying information about how many other people had participated and a control group receiving no social information.

Experiments to Investigate Online Collective Action and Leadership

Emergent Leadership Screenshot

These experiments explored the dynamics of collective action on-line and tested empirically how different information environments affect collective action decisions at various stages in a mobilization. Specifically, we wanted to examine the effect of different forms of real-time ‘social influence’ on people’s participatory decisions.

Study on User Expectations of a Life Events Approach for Designing e-Government Services

The Study on User Expectations of a Life Events Approach for Designing e-Government Services project for the European Commission investigated the new government landscape online and how eGovernment expectations among citizens and eGovernment services have changed. Project partners included: Deloitte, the Oxford Internet Institute, and Dear Media.

How many people does it take to change a petition?

This paper tests the hypothesis that social information provided by the internet makes it possible in large groups to exert social pressure that Olson considered viable only for smaller groups. In two experiments - laboratory and field - subjects could choose to sign petitions and donate money to support causes. Participants were randomised into treatment groups that received varying information about how many other people had participated and control groups receiving no social information.

Department for Work and Pensions: Communicating with customers

On 7 May 2009 the National Audit Office (NAO) has published a report on information exchange in benefits delivery: Department for Work and Pensions: Communicating with Customers, produced by a joint OII-LSE research team led by Professors Helen Margetts (OII) and Patrick Dunleavy (LSE).