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Announcing GiveWell Labs

Note: The Open Philanthropy Project was formerly known as GiveWell Labs. Before the launch of the Open Philanthropy Project Blog, this post appeared on the GiveWell Blog. Uses of “we” and “our” in the below post may refer to the Open Philanthropy Project or to GiveWell as an organization. Additional comments may be available at the original post.

The research we’ve been doing for the last couple of years has been constrained in a couple of key ways:

  • We’ve pre-declared areas of focus (based on our guesses as to where the most promising charities would be found), and disqualified charities for recommendations on the basis of their being “out of scope” (though we’ve been gradually broadening our scope).
  • We’ve needed to decide which organizations to recommend without being able to say in advance how much money would go to them as a result. This has led to challenges with the question of “room for more funding.” We’ve had to find charities that could essentially use any amount of funding (large or small) productively, and this has drastically narrowed our options.

We’re now launching a new initiative within GiveWell that will not be subject to either of these constraints. We plan to invest about 25% of our research time in what we’re calling GiveWell Labs: an arm of our research process that will be open to any giving opportunity, no matter what form and what sector.

Through GiveWell Labs, we will try to identify outstanding giving opportunities (whether they’re organizations or specific projects), publish rankings of these giving opportunities (separate from the top charities list we maintain using our existing research process) and try to raise money for these opportunities. Donors have pre-committed a minimum of $1 million to the GiveWell Labs initiative, meaning that we will have at least $1 million to commit to our choice of projects even if we are able to raise nothing else. (We expect to raise more if and when we find great giving opportunities; the $1 million has been committed based on donors’ trust in our ability to find such opportunities.)

Our existing work of finding outstanding international aid charities - using a more systematic process - continues. Over the coming year, we expect to spend about 75% of our research time on our existing work of finding outstanding international aid charities, and 25% of our research time on GiveWell Labs. Note that our “standard” process continues to gradually evolve and broaden its scope, and hopefully will come to incorporate insights gained through the work on GiveWell Labs. The distinction between the two may even dissolve over time. But at this time, GiveWell Labs is the arm of our process that is open to any giving opportunity, no matter what form and what sector.

In future blog posts, we’ll be giving a lot more information about this project, including:

  • More on why we’re moving in this direction at this time, and why we think a less-constrained, exploratory arm of our research process will help us find better giving opportunities.
  • Our planned process for finding great giving opportunities through GiveWell Labs, and what you can expect from us in terms of transparency.
  • The main qualities we’re looking for in a funding opportunity (when unconstrained by the form or sector of the opportunity), and why we’re looking for them.
  • The areas we think are most likely to yield great giving opportunities, and why.

In the meantime, if you know of any giving opportunities that are (a) not already funded or likely to be funded by others; (b) outstanding opportunities to have a large positive impact, please let us know.

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