A Mobile Experimental Economics Portal (the “Lab-in-a-bag”)

Photo of participants in a mobile experiment

Participants in an experiment that analyses decisions made in gaming

Research Team

Sarah Brown
Philip Powell
Jennifer Roberts


Experiments are critical in establishing our understanding of causal relationships. While the use of brick-and-mortar laboratories to conduct experiments in economics (and other fields) is commonplace, this approach is restricted by its physical locale and lack of ecological validity. The “lab-in-a-bag” is a novel, two-year Faculty of Social Science Strategic Development Fund initiative to bring the rigour and control of the experimental method out of the “ivory tower” and into the “real-world”.

Based on a set of 30 iPads, that can be easily transported and set-up to conduct behavioural economic and decision-making experiments in real-world settings, the aims of “lab-in-a-bag” are twofold: 1) to increase our knowledge of causal effects in behavioural economics and economic decision-making through innovative mobile experiments in ecologically-valid settings and with hard-to-reach populations; and 2) to promote and facilitate innovation in experimental methods in the social sciences, by developing institutional expertise in mobile experimentation and in exploiting the unique attributes of mobile technology, such as the tactile, manoeuvrable features of the iPads, or the use of the mobile camera and biometric apps.

Lab-in-a-bag has an explicit interdisciplinary focus, involving a close collaboration between economics and psychology, but will extend to facilitate cross-disciplinary work with other colleagues across multiple disciplines, including in management and entrepreneurship and the Sheffield Methods Institute. The project began in April 2016 and will run until March 2018.