The Development Impact Blog (link) has an outstanding post by Ken Leonard discussing the differences between prosocial and intrinsic motivations for public service workers:
When we hear of a fireman who works for money, we immediately think about the wage, its relationship to performance and the way incentives are organized within the system. If you hope to be rescued by someone who works only for the money, you want to know how and under what circumstances he earns more. The term intrinsic motivation, however, often leads to policy paralysis: if they love to do their job, then let them continue to do their job. Once we recognize, however, that public sector workers might be motivated by the gratitude or admiration of others (not the act of doing their job), we might be more likely to ask about wages, incentives and organizations—the same questions we would automatically ask about money. For example, does seeking the gratitude of patients or students increase or decrease useful effort? Can organizations increase exposure to positive incentives and decrease exposure to negative incentives?
So intrinsic: “I like doing this work.” Prosocial (or, perhaps better termed, Other-regarding): “I like what this work does for others” or “I like how others view my doing this work.”
If you find such a discussion of intrinsic/extrinsic, other/self-regarding motivations interesting, you should really read Jon Elster: link.
This also reminds me of a conversation I had with Leonard Wantchekon last year:
“I am hoping to organize a conference on organization theory—you know, as a way to gain insights on why state institutions sometimes work and sometimes don’t,” he said.
“Sounds great!” I replied.
“Yeah, and you know what?” he continued. “If the key result of your model or field experiment is ‘higher wages lead to better performance’, you’re not invited!”