Dartmouth transforms its candidate evaluation process with Balloon

Dartmouth College is one of the nation’s oldest and most respected institutions for post-secondary education. As part of the Ivy League, Dartmouth attracts world-class faculty and an equally impressive student body, and it frequently ranks among the top ten universities in the United States. Dartmouth emphasizes the undergraduate experience, and its 4,000+ undergraduate students are able to receive an exceptional liberal arts education and have the ability to participate in hundreds of organizations and activities, including the Hill Winds Society.

Dartmouth's Hill Winds Society had a problem.

The Hill Winds Society is a “group of about 40 students selected to be ambassadors to the alumni body,” striving to maintain a community of current students and Dartmouth alumni. The society holds events and programs throughout the year and launches educational initiatives to connect with “all members of the Dartmouth community.” Every year, the society seeks to select 10 first-year students with strong leadership abilities, infectious spirit, a passion for campus involvement, and outstanding communication skills.

With such a talented and diverse student body to choose from, it is understandable that the Hill Winds Society has a thorough recruitment and evaluation process; candidates undergo both a written application and a personal interview in order to potentially gain an invitation to the society. Before using Balloon to complement their selection process, the Hill Winds Society’s directors and current members discussed and evaluated the candidates during a four-hour long, in-person, meeting. Rising concern was expressed that damaging group dynamics and bias from members had a growing impact on the deliberations and selection process.

"The process of reviewing applications and nominations had become a social competition — ‘who knows who.’ It needed to be more objective based on [our desired] membership characteristics," said Nicole B. Losavio, the assistant director of class activities within the Alumni Relations department at Dartmouth. "With a recruitment process based heavily on social connections, the Hill Winds Society needed a way to reduce human bias.” 

Balloon had the solution.

Anonymity provides an environment with unlimited potential for true feedback and merit-based evaluation.

"Balloon worked so well and we had a ton of participation! Folks left insightful comments which sparked good discussion. Students were able to post comments — positive or negative — without fear of judgment."

— Nicole B. Losavio, Assistant Director of Class Activities at Dartmouth College

When evaluating candidates in a group-setting, especially an environment where evaluators may personally know candidates, elements of human behavior can lead to individuals holding back comments for various reasons. Pointing out negative traits or qualities of candidates can be perceived as mean and treated as a taboo. Similarly, pointing out positive attributes can potentially be misconstrued as engaging in favoritism. Additionally, the intimidating premise of voicing an unpopular opinion can dissuade individuals from speaking up in conversation. This is problematic given the need for insightful and productive deliberations that comes from open and honest discussion.

By adding Balloon's Insight Mobility platform to their selection process for two years, the Hill Winds Society was able to collect unfiltered anonymous feedback from its evaluating students. Members gained confidence to freely share their thoughts and provide invaluable ideas that otherwise may never have been voiced in discussions.

"Balloon worked so well and we had a ton of participation! Folks left insightful comments which sparked good discussion," said Losavio. "Students were able to post comments — positive or negative — without fear of judgment.” 

Balloon eliminates costly cognitive biases and promotes focused, efficient evaluation.

Another struggle faced by selection committees is not being able to reconcile differences through a timely, productive and collaborative process. When there are multiple perspectives at play, a small group of individuals tends to speak up and dominate conversations in order to defend the ideas they support. Such a style of discussion comes with many disadvantages. First, anchoring bias, a type of cognitive bias that results in an individual relying too heavily on the initial piece of information offered (known as the “anchor”) when making decisions. If the initial piece of information that is shared is negative, this could drive the rest of the conversation and evaluation process in a negative direction. Second, collaborative conversation is replaced with contentious debate, causing the opinions of those who are naturally quiet to have less influence on the group’s outcome. Also, selection bias can prevent evaluators from recognizing the merit of ideas that are not their own, creating a static discussion where compromise eludes participants. Lastly, in a fast-paced discussion where the most vocal members make disproportionate quantities of comments, it can take far too long to determine the general opinion on a specific candidate.

With Balloon, discussions become more collaborative and allow all contributors to have equal opportunities to share their thoughts, ideas, and feedback. By using Balloon's Insight Mobility platform to facilitate discussion, evaluation of ideas and candidates is not restricted to a singular thread of discussion, but instead takes place through multiple channels that evolve discussions at a more rapid pace. Additionally, the virtual environment allows contributors to consider ideas outside the context of who voiced them, reducing selection bias. Groupthink is also removed, as voting and support for candidates is first completed in silos. Moreover, by broadcasting trends in approval of candidates and comments, collaborators can streamline their final evaluation by focusing on widely supported ideas to reach a consensus much more quickly. The Hill Winds Society observed that Balloon's unbiased data effectively complemented their deliberations and having a live record of discussion meant strong points were not forgotten or lost in the moment.

“Balloon can help someone who is otherwise ‘talked over.’ For example, before Balloon, a student might have a point they want to make but someone goes in another direction with a stronger voice. Balloon provides an opportunity to collect the information so we don’t lose sight of a data point," said Losavio. "You can also see the areas where people agree. What five people really like about someone is x, y, z — then you can go back and reference that. We often heard students saying, ‘let’s see what someone said on Balloon’ throughout deliberations.” 

Balloon reduces meeting time by 70%.

By having an online platform to eliminate the time otherwise wasted by conventional methods of deliberation, The Hill Winds Society was able to focus their energy on evaluation. Compared to the normally long, four-hour meeting time, they “only spent about an hour and 15 minutes on deliberations this year, which is huge!” Balloon reduced the meeting time by seventy percent enabling the Hill Winds Society to accomplish more in a shorter period of time.

Based on their experience, the Hill Winds Society plans to continue to use Balloon's Insight Mobility platform for their recruitment and evaluation of candidates, confident that it will help them prepare for meetings, reflect between periods of deliberation, and ensure that their selection process is more equitable and efficient.