New Insight from Old Data
| Peter Klein |
A few years ago Mike Sykuta and I met with Ronald Coase to discuss ways to add contract documents to the CORI library. Limited contract data from secondary sources, like large-company public filings, are readily available, but how to get a larger variety of contract types, such as the long-term supply agreements of particular interest to Coase? Firms are naturally reluctant to make these available to researchers. Coase’s suggestion was to pursue obsolete contracts from company archives. Old contracts, after all, should be as good as current ones for examining hypotheses about contract design and performance, and firms presumably don’t care if they’re made public.
A recent HBR article implores companies to make use of archived datasets, and the advice applies to academic researchers as well. “For example, a retailer that has kept and labeled its old POS data could now subject it to today’s sophisticated analytical techniques, gaining a valuable understanding of long-term consumer trends.” Likewise, revisiting old data with new and better econometrics, more careful attention to research design (e.g., identification), and sharper hypotheses could generate some interesting findings.
In strategy and entrepreneurship research, everybody wants to study the same stuff: pharma and biotech patenting, R&D alliances, technology IPOs, etc. On the margin, a clever study of an old industry, old data, an old problem, could create a lot of value.