Re-incentivizing discovery: Mechanisms for partial-progress sharing in research


An essential primitive for an efficient research ecosystem is partial-progress sharing (PPS) - whereby a researcher shares information immediately upon making a breakthrough. This helps prevent duplication of work; however there is evidence that existing reward structures in research discourage partial-progress sharing. Ensuring PPS is especially important for new online collaborative-research platforms, which involve many researchers working on large, multi-stage problems. We study the problem of incentivizing information-sharing in research, under a stylized model: non-identical agents work independently on subtasks of a large project, with dependencies between subtasks captured via an acyclic subtask-network. Each subtask carries a reward, given to the first agent who publicly shares its solution. Agents can choose which subtasks to work on, and more importantly, when to reveal solutions to completed subtasks. Under this model, we uncover the strategic rationale behind certain anecdotal phenomena. Moreover, for any acyclic subtask-network, and under a general model of agent-subtask completion times, we give sufficient conditions that ensure PPS is incentive-compatible for all agents. One surprising finding is that rewards which are approximately proportional to perceived task-difficulties are sufficient to ensure PPS in all acyclic subtask-networks. The fact that there is no tension between local fairness and global information-sharing in multi-stage projects is encouraging, as it suggests practical mechanisms for real-world settings. Finally, we show that PPS is necessary, and in many cases, sufficient, to ensure a high rate of progress in research.

EC ‘14: Proceedings of the fifteenth ACM conference on Economics and Computation
Siddhartha Banerjee
Siddhartha Banerjee
Associate Professor

Sid Banerjee is an associate professor in the School of Operations Research at Cornell, working on topics at the intersection of data-driven decision-making, market design, and algorithms for large-scale networks.