By Tee Barnett and Baxter Bullock
This post details our shift in priorities for the Students for High-Impact Charity (SHIC) program over time, and briefly outlines the revised methods of delivering this approach. We conclude the article by announcing a new SHIC workshop experiment slated to launch in early 2018.
I - Background
II - Initial Strategy
III - SHIC Workshop Experiment
IV - Our Revised Approach
I - Background
Shortly after the release of our interim report in early 2017, SHIC became a project under the Rethink Charity umbrella. The organizational reshuffling and insight from 2016 prompted us to reconsider our program objectives and outreach methods for making the largest impact with students.
The program’s overall objectives are to inform students about the greatest problems facing humanity, equip them with the cognitive tools for thinking about how to address these problems, and then suggest possible solutions and avenues for taking effective action.
II - Initial Strategy
Our initial outreach strategy prioritized making SHIC accessible, hoping to reach the largest number of students possible in order to produce broad-scale shifts in perspective and behavior (e.g. survey results across all participants), and perhaps even a significant inflection point for a small fraction. Since mid-2016, we’ve relied solely on volunteer student leaders and teachers to run the program with student participants. The interim report expands on how we found this implementation model rather unstable. We found difficulties in data collection most problematic.
Gathering feedback on the curriculum, testing program efficacy, and achieving scale, were largely rolled into a single process. By running the introductory program with as many students as possible, we expected to collect actionable data while simultaneously scaling our presence around the world.
SHIC confronted several practical questions that affected how we interpreted our success metrics. As an example, we’d initially intended to inspire dozens of SHIC groups around the world to fundraise for effective charity as a broad indicator of program effectiveness. We reasoned that fundraising participation and performance could serve as a proxy for student engagement. Fundraising also served to hedge uncertainty regarding the overall value of SHIC by prompting donations to high-impact charities, possibly enough to offset the cost of the project. After observing very inconsistent and underwhelming student fundraising numbers, it became clear that using dollars donated as a central goal of program success warranted revisiting.
More importantly, we questioned the underlying assumptions of our success metrics. As a program dedicated to helping students achieve the largest prosocial impact, it wasn’t clear that high fundraising numbers or broad shifts in survey results would necessarily be indicative of lasting impact. We increasingly felt that inspiring meaningful value shifts and shaping long-term plans for a smaller proportion of participants would be more impactful.
For instance, we had serious reservations that program objectives appeared to privilege present-day action over longer-term skill building. Our previous model did not consider the opportunity-cost of fundraising comparatively nominal amounts for charity, versus skill building in order to have a larger impact in the future. In fact, optimizing SHIC too much in either direction (towards long-term career building or towards short-term action) could be detrimental. Put too much present-day focus in the program, and students likely achieve relatively little good and neglect skill building for the future. Put too much emphasis in skill building for the future, and risk squelching a natural passion for helping others.
III - SHIC Workshop Experiment
After reevaluating the program as a whole, we’ve decided on an implementation model that better reflects our revised objectives. By early 2018, SHIC will conduct the most ambitious experiment on the program to date, training in-house instructors to bring SHIC workshops to schools across Vancouver.
We gauge interest in the program by opening with mass Giving Game events conducted by SHIC. Provided that a large enough group of students are interested in moving on to the introductory program in a given school, SHIC instructors will return to conduct the full workshop in two additional 1.5-hour installments.
An additional component to this experiment will involve collecting longitudinal data on the medium- to long-term effects of our program on student giving behavior. Thanks to our collaboration with Charitable Impact Foundation (CHIMP), a Vancouver-based donation platform that uses a donor-advised fund to facilitate gifts to other registered charities.
We will be able to track the giving behavior of workshop participants by individually assigning online Chimp accounts. On a monthly basis, each participant account will be credited with a set amount of money that can be disbursed to any charity in Canada, and also effective charities across the border thanks to our partnership with the Priority Foundation. We hypothesize the SHIC program will at least moderately influence the giving preferences of students.
In addition to the longitudinal giving data, surveys administered throughout the subsequent year, qualitative interviews, and classroom-level scouting will help SHIC identify a select cohort of high-potential students eligible for additional programming and mentorship opportunities.
IV - Our Revised Approach
Compared to the inconsistency we experienced with a volunteer implementation model, an instructor approach allows for more rapid feedback and adjustment, reliable data collection, tighter quality control over messaging, and may motivate students to become generally more engaged. By late 2018, we expect to have several vantage points from which to assess the impact of SHIC.
More importantly, the instructor model is our best attempt at taking a more targeted approach at influencing students. SHIC will remain committed to keeping our message accessible – students around the world can still download our entire curriculum for free and run their own student clubs, for example – but the majority of our resources and effort will pursue meaningful impact on an individual level. We’ve updated our program to achieve this in the following ways:
Using data to identify high-potential students - SHIC will collect a variety of metrics to find students most inclined to engage with effective charity in the long-term. Primarily through periodic surveying, qualitative interviews and classroom-level scouting, we will identify a select cohort of students eligible for additional programming, mentorship, and career opportunities.
Action oriented toward future impact - Our program incorporates more informed insight on balancing long-term skill-building and present-day action. As an example, rather than exclusively recommending raising money for effective charities, we may instead attempt to connect students with high-impact internship opportunities. This new approach empowers students in the present day, facilitates skill-building, and helps build experience and career capital that could reap long-term benefits. The career path carved out by Owen Shen provides a real-world example of this approach. Owen became involved with the rationalism and effective altruism community at the age of 16, eventually volunteering with the SHIC curriculum and outreach teams for a number of months. Owen created his own rationality-focused blog, and subsequently earned a contractor position with the Center for Applied Rationality (CFAR). Our overarching objective is to orient students toward a future with the highest potential for prosocial impact in a way similar to Owen.
Optimizing curriculum for critical thinking - SHIC goes far beyond philanthropic education. Our application of logic, ethics, epistemology, and metacognition to complex social problems provide transferable skills students can utilize in other educational domains. Students and teachers will explore the scientific method, thematic learning, lateral thinking, and the formulation of an alternative outlook on conventional problem solving. See ‘Level 6 - Cognitive Quirks’ for the sort of thematic principles we will incorporate more of moving forward.
More information on the SHIC workshop experiment will be made public in the coming months. You can get notified of the latest developments with this specific project by signing up here.
Post written by Tee Barnett and Baxter Bullock, with invaluable edits and input from Peter Hurford, David Moss and Catherine Low. A special thanks to 80,000 Hours for publishing their process over the years and communicating the importance of long-term plan changes, and to CHIMP for their inspiration and technical support. We’re happy to discuss this post further in the comments section. You can email Tee at email@example.com, and Baxter at firstname.lastname@example.org.