Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2014

Wisdom or Madness? Comparing Crowds with Expert Evaluation in Funding the Arts

by Ethan Mollick and Ramana Nanda

Abstract

In fields as diverse as technology entrepreneurship and the arts, crowds of interested stakeholders are increasingly responsible for deciding which innovations to fund, a privilege that was previously reserved for a few experts, such as venture capitalists and grant-making bodies. Little is known about the degree to which the crowd differs from experts in judging which ideas to fund, and, indeed, whether the crowd is even rational in making funding decisions. Drawing on a panel of national experts and comprehensive data from the largest crowdfunding site, we examine funding decisions for proposed theater projects, a category where expert and crowd preferences might be expected to differ greatly. We instead find substantial agreement between the funding decisions of crowds and experts. Where crowds and experts disagree, it is far more likely to be a case where the crowd is willing to fund projects that experts may not. Examining the outcomes of these projects, we find no quantitative or qualitative differences between projects funded by the crowd alone, and those that were selected by both the crowd and experts. Our findings suggest that the democratization of entry that is facilitated by the crowdfunding has the potential to lower the incidence of "false negatives," by allowing projects the option to receive multiple evaluations and reach out to receptive communities that may not otherwise be represented by experts.

Keywords: Arts; Decision Choices and Conditions; Giving and Philanthropy;

Citation:

Mollick, Ethan, and Ramana Nanda. "Wisdom or Madness? Comparing Crowds with Expert Evaluation in Funding the Arts." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 14-116, May 2014. (Revised June 2014.)