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GiveWell’s Plan for 2013: A Top-Level Decision

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.

This is the fourth post (of five) we’re planning to make focused on our self-evaluation and future plans. The final post will be our metrics report.

One of the major questions we grappled with in 2012 - and probably the single biggest open question at this moment - is how to prioritize researching charities that meet our traditional criteria vs. broadening our research to include new causes (the work we’ve previously referred to as GiveWell Labs).

We discussed this tradeoff previously, saying that we would put enough work into our traditional research to “meet demand” and would otherwise be prioritizing research-broadening work. We believe this approach did not work well and needs to be changed, because

  • “Meeting demand” for charities that meet our traditional criteria arguably includes not just identifying top charities, but investigating them deeply. Over the course of 2012, we spent significant time deepening our understanding of our top charities and their interventions (see Revisiting the case for insecticide-treated nets, Insecticide resistance and malaria control, Revisiting the case for developmental effects of deworming, New Cochrane review of the Effectiveness of Deworming). This work ended up taking significant co-founder time, and conceptually we believe that there is no limit to how deeply we can investigate our top charities. (This isn’t to say that we know such depth is what our audience requires; this is one of the things we’re hoping to learn more about, as discussed below.)
  • As discussed previously, we made much less progress on cause-broadening work than we had hoped to, largely because of the above point.
  • We believe that continuing to improve our offerings under our traditional criteria is not the most efficient way to find the best possible giving opportunities. However, we also believe (though, again, we could be wrong and are hoping to learn more) that a sizable part of our audience values our traditional-criteria charities and does not value our cause-broadening work.

We now see the situation as potentially involving two different audiences for GiveWell’s work, with different values and priorities; rather than claiming we can fully serve both (we’re too resource-constrained to do so), we need to explicitly define and segment the audiences, determine how to assign resources to each, and do the best we can for each within the resource constraints we set.

The next step for us is to get better data on the extent to which, and way in which, our audience is divided. We need to know which of our followers are most interested in our cause-broadening work as opposed to our traditional criteria, and what aspects of each are most important to them.

Accordingly, we have created a survey for GiveWell followers, seeking to gauge the appeal of different possible paths we could take to different parts of our audience. We are using the survey as only one factor to determine how to move forward, but we would very much appreciate participation from any followers.

Following our collection and analysis of survey results, we will publish further content regarding how we plan to segment our work and what we believe we will be able to deliver. Further discussion of our 2013 plans is not forthcoming until after that point.

(Note that our most recent Board meeting focuses on the issues discussed here, for those who are interested in listening.)

Take the survey for GiveWell followers

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