Collaborative Research: The Art of Conversation

Project: Research project

Project Details


As information technology has become more widespread, it is now increasingly

possible for decision makers, such as CEOs and legislators, to obtain advice from

a variety of experts with di!ering areas of expertise. Conventional wisdom suggests

that, as a result, the decision maker will reach better decisions. This, however, ignores

the fact that experts may withhold or distort information in the hope of influencing

the decision in a direction favorable to them. Thus, a decision maker needs to consider

how the structure of communication -- the conversation --affects how informative is

the advice received from experts. This project investigates how the structure of

communication a!ects the quality of decisions.

The first part of the project concerns conversations between an uninformed deci-

sion maker and an informed expert. When the expert sends a written report, unac-

companied by any dialogue, this results in substantial information loss. A face-to-face

meeting between a decision maker and an expert, however, leads to an improvement

in the informativeness of expert advice--even though the decision maker is completely

uninformed. Both the decision maker and the expert benefit from the conversation.

This leads us to examine the following questions: How much information can be cred-

ibly transmitted in a face-to-face meeting? Is it possible to induce the expert to fully

disclose his information?

In many situations, the decision maker himself may be knowledgeable about some

aspects of the decision. As an example, an entrepreneur may have detailed knowl-

edge about the growth prospects of his product, but still require financial expertise in

taking his company public. The second part of the project concerns communication

in such situations--where both the decision maker and the expert have some rele-

vant information. Once again, the structure of communication can critically affect

the amount of information exchanged. For instance, there are many circumstances

where back-and-forth communication does not lead to information gains--even if the

decision maker is informed--and we identify these circumstances. This leads us to

ask the following questions: Is the situation improved by adding more rounds of com-

munication? Is a face-to-face meeting superior to a back-and-forth exchange, such as

via E-mail?

The third part concerns situations where decisions are multi-faceted and informa-

tion is dispersed among many 'specialist' experts. For instance, a piece of legislation

may impact both employment and the environment. Different lobbying groups are

likely to possess expertise in each of these areas. We study whether providing experts

with an opportunity to communicate with one another improves the informativeness

of their advice. Is the situation improved if the decision maker also participates? Is

the situation improved if there is overlap in the experts' specialized knowledge?

Effective start/end date2/15/011/31/05


  • National Science Foundation: $190,211.00


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