Introduction for EA Forum
I have copied below the impact report for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Future Generations. It was a pain to write because just as I finished the report we went from “having almost no impact” to “having some impact” as our request for a new Committee to scrutinise how the UK prepares for future risks was approved. Ah well!
It is my first year working on such a project, and as such it is hard for me to judge whether we have done a good job or just been lucky (or even unlucky, or badly run). That said I hope this provides a reasonable yardstick to think about the impact of policy influencing, that you find it an interesting tale and that it gives a sense of what working in policy is like. The write-up does not assess whether trying to improve policy, (such as policy on future risks) will actually lead to clear counterfactual impact on the world and I leave this part of the puzzle to readers.
If I was giving advice to others taking on similar projects I would say:
- Put yourself in a position of influence. You can create change by working with those who have power and taking opportunities when they arise. For example finding and working with or for political actors who are aligned with the change you want to create.
- Find quality experts. You can get access to high quality experts through the combination of having a role in the politics/government sphere and being willing to ask (politely with confidence and credentials). We have had some really top level speakers at our events. Policy development is never as simple as you think and experienced input is super useful. For developing policy an hour conversation with the CEO of a government agency can be worth days of desk research.
I would also add that:
- I am unconvinced the EA community gets policy and has prioritised the correct policy areas. For example if you believe the longtermist arguments that top programmers should work on AI alignment, it does not at all follow that good policy people can have more impact on AI policy compared to policy on resilience, macroeconomics, institution design, nuclear non-proliferation, climate change, etc. Similarly bednets are likely not the answer to international development policy, and the effect of policy on international development is under researched by EA folk. (I will hopefully write more on all of this shortly).
If you think this is a good project and want to support it in any way or have feedback on it do get in touch. We are developing our plans for 2020-21.
(A better formatted pdf version of the below is available here.)
Thank you for reading our impact report. We hope you find it an interesting examination of the work of the APPG for Future Generations.The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Future Generations was established in 2017 with a view to represent and to safeguard the rights of future generations and to push back on political short termism. We support our Members and Parliamentarians to fairly consider the interests of all future generations and ensure that they have the resources to work and plan for the long-term.
To effectively assess the impact that our work has had over the past year, we have produced this report which details both the clear, and likely impact that the APPG has had from 1st March 2019 - 31st May 2020.
Like many APPGs we are funded by various charitable actors: the Centre for Effective Altruism, the Berkley Existential Risk Initiative, the Long Term Future Fund and the Survival and Flourishing Fund. This report demonstrates to our funders how an active APPG can play a role in moving debate forward, as well as facilitating both conversations and non-partisan actions on a topic.
The APPG secretariat will also use this report as a tool for improving our work going forward, by measuring our impact to date so that we can develop more detailed, effective future plans and ensure that we support Parliamentarians most helpfully.
Despite tracking policy change, the APPG (including the secretariat to the APPG) is not a lobby group, rather, we provide non-partisan support to all UK Parliamentarians who care about the future. Any direct impact we have on the world is through them.
As such we would like to express gratitude for those MPs, across the political spectrum, who have been our officers for this year and a half of growth. Particular thanks go to our Chair Bambos Charalambous MP, our co-Chair Lord John Bird and all of our officers. Thanks are also due to Lord Martin Rees and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk for hosting and providing support to the secretariat of this APPG.
Who we are
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Future Generations runs events in the UK Parliament and maintains a list of Parliamentarians with an interest in future generations policy. Our 2019 theory of change was:
Research policy + Grow the APPG + Campaign → Policy changes via Parliamentarians
What was done
From 01 March 2019 until 31 May 2020 running the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Future Generations cost £38,000, funding roughly 1 full time equivalent. In this time we ran 11 events and focused on a few specific projects:
- An inquiry researching long-termism in policy making. With a small Parliamentarian steering committee. Research carried out through interviews and evidence sessions.
- A campaign for a UK Future Generations Bill to embed a Commissioner for Future Generations into the structures of UK policy making.
- Other projects: Events on technological risks, scenario planning workshops, an attempt to influence manifestos and a push for a select committee on risk management.
We have seen positive traction in in the early stages of our theory of change:
- The APPG has grown from 23 members (Mar 2019) to 75 members (Apr 2020). Event attendance has grown, with our 2020 AGM attracting 50+ parliamentarians (there were 8 in 2019). The term “future generations” is used 40% more in Parliamentary debates.
- The Future Generations Bill campaign has had traction with two private members bills laid, support from 70+ MPs and 40+ Peers and significant press attention.
- Positive feedback received suggests we have been useful in providing advice, policy suggestions and connections for staff at FHI, CSER, the UK civil service and elsewhere.
We have seen one significant impact
- A special committee on risk management planned by the House of Lords for 1 year.
- The APPG for Future Generations has had significant traction at the early steps of the theory of change. We have built the size and profile of the APPG within Parliament and seen traction in our campaigns, especially the Today for Tomorrow campaign.
- The Special Inquiry Committee success should alone suggest the APPG is cost effective – it means there will be future high quality official work on key policy topic.
- Further, about half of our work is research. It is too early to get a clear idea of the value of this but given the quality of the evidence collected and the interest of Parliamentarians in our work we are optimistic, especially about our long-termism inquiry.
This impact report covers the dates: 01 March 2019 until 31 May 2020 which is 15 months
What is the APPG for Future Generations?
What are APPGs
An All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) is a group of UK Parliamentarians (MPs and Peers) that meet to discuss a particular topic. They have a formal status in Parliament, but no formal powers or formal funding, so many of the more active ones are funded by charities or companies. The core tasks of an APPG, which need to be met to remain an APPG, are running events for Parliamentarians and managing the list of members. They can take actions to build awareness of their issue or carry out research inquiries on key topics.
An APPG on Future Generations was a recommendation of this paper (pre-print) which made a case for better Future Generations policy as a route to reducing existential risk and proposed an APPG as “a good first step towards creating cross-party support for future generations issues." The APPG was set up by Cambridge students in October 2017 with support from the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER), and was run by students and volunteers until March 2019.
Situation in March 2019
In March 2019 the APPG had 23 Parliamentarians on their member list. The secretariat had good relationships with a number of Parliamentarians including Bambos Charalambous MP (Chair) and Lord Bird (Co-chair) and Lord Bird had plans for a UK Future Generations Bill. Events were about every 3 months, and poorly attended by Parliamentarians (although external guests were plentiful). The APPG had arranged grants for Sam and Caroline to work (1 full time equivalent) on the APPG.
Strategy and aims
In early 2019 Sam set out the Strategy for 2019 which was refined in June as the Strategy for 2019 Q3-4. The mission was:
“To provide impartial education, support and advice to Parliamentarians to assist them in ensuring that the UK Government takes into account the rights of future generations and is effectively addressing existential and catastrophic risks.”
The theory of change was:
Research policy suggestions
Build up the APPG
Support Parliamentarians to drive policy change
Changes to policy in the UK, including:
A) Improved long-term policy making
B) better policies on catastrophic risks
BETTER FUTURE FOR ALL
The political background
In evaluating the APPG it is important to be aware of the 2019 political situation. There was a minority government and Parliament was preoccupied with Brexit. 2019 saw more government defeats in Parliament than any other year ever [source], Parliament being unlawfully prorogued and a general election. A drain on Parliamentarians' attention to this level is unlikely to recur anytime soon. As such it is worth distinguishing the impact made in 2019 and the impact made in early 2020 and the expected impact going forwards.
On measuring the impact of policy interventions
To measure the success of a policy intervention we would ideally identify actual concrete policy or institutional changes, changes to the law or to government guidance that directly benefits the world. However it can often take years or decades to achieve such changes. As such we may want to measure the success by looking for:
- Traction: Successes that are the result of a planned effort. Eg: press coverage, endorsements that have been asked for, etc.
- Independent indicators: Specific successes that are independent of planned efforts Eg: unexpected endorsements or references to our ideas.
- Baseline changes: A background factor of the world that changes. For example if politicians talk about an issue 20% more than previously.
The policy space is incredibly crowded. There are many groups calling for change on even the most niche issues. Measuring attribution is therefore incredibly difficult.
Sam: 4 days a week for 15 months at a cost of £29,250.
Caroline: 1 day a week for 15 months at a cost of £7,300.
Other costs: ~£1,500 (travel, events, etc)
Gifts in kind: Support from Lord Rees as sponsoring peer and CSER staff (Haydn).
Total cost: ~£38,000
Sam and Caroline could have been earning higher salaries. We may want to consider their choice to work on the APPG as a gift in kind to the APPG. If accounting for this we reach:
Estimated counterfactual cost: ~£80,000
What we have done.
Time breakdown estimates (Rough estimates made post hoc):
Core task: Events – 10%
Core task: Growing the APPG – 5%
Project 1: Inquiry (not the events) – 20%
Project 2: Today for Tomorrow (T4T) – 25%
Other: Other policy research – 15%
Other: Other campaigns & support – 5%
Background: Ops, admin & hiring – 10%
Background: Other Networking – 10%
Core task: Events and building the profile and members list
The APPG has run a number of events over the last year (see timeline below). As well as running our own events we also invite APPG members to attend other events and to speak in relevant debates in Parliament. We have also been gradually growing the APPG. We have reached out to Parliamentarians, for example attendees at events or relevant debates and invited them to be on our members list.
Project 1 – research: An inquiry into long-termism in UK policy making.
We are carrying out a research project (Terms of Reference). We ran an initial meeting with Parliamentarians on this. We interviewed 9 relevant experts. We have run the first 5 in a series of events with expert speakers looking at long-termism in various areas.
Project 2 – campaign: The Today for Tomorrow campaign for a Future Generations Act
We have worked closely with Lord Bird’s office on this and much of the traction has been through their good work. We have supported their office in developing their strategy and direction for this work, drafting a private members bill, holding debates in Parliament and running a Parliamentary launch for the campaign.
Other projects: Other work on existential risk and future generations policy
We have given policy advice to and helped to connect people in the policy space, including UK civil servants, CSER staff and Alpenglow. We have done unpublished background policy research. We have tried to capitalise on opportunities to push for change, for example the snap election and the formation of Select Committees.
Background work: admin, operations, networking and hiring.
Moving from a volunteer organisation to an organisation capable of hiring staff has included a work on: parliament passes, maintaining APPG status, fundraising, company registration, a bank account, website, GDPR policy, hiring, etc. A notable amount of time also went into maintaining and building a strong network, meeting with Lords, MPs, Academics (at CSER and the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI)), other APPG coordinators civil servants, think tanks and other similar groups globally.
Parliamentarians fill out a Committee Room for the APPG’s AGM, Feb 2020
Note: This section maps onto our 2019 theory of change:
Research policy + Grow the APPG + Campaign → Policy changes
Research: The inquiry into long-termism
The inquiry is not complete so we cannot fairly yet judge its value. We note that
- We have built relationships with Parliamentarians. We have 5 MPs and 4 Peers on our steering committee and have had 8 MPs and 17 Peers attend at least one inquiry event. We hope this will engender a sense of ownership of the finished research and help this research lead to action.
- We have received evidence from top level government officials.
Overall this work is progressing well. I expect that this work will be comparable to and have impact in the same ball-park as other existential risk related reports developed by CSER and FHI (for example the Malicious Use of AI Report). Potential advantages of our approach is that it is building traction with Parliamentarians as it progresses and that it is producing concrete policy suggestions.
Research: Other research
Sam has also been researching policy suggestions for the UK government. This has included:
- Deep dives into policy areas, producing policy suggestions on: emerging technology regulation, improving long-term decision making and managing extreme risks.
- Shallow dives into other policy areas, including: AI, autonomous weapons, biosecurity, COVID-19, climate change and nuclear weapons.
- General research into how the effective altruism community should approach policy, risks and measuring the impact of policy interventions.
As of yet most of this work has also not been written up (see the section below on Future Impact). This work has however been used to:
- Provided useful advice to civil servants working on AI policy and long-termism policy.
- Provided feedback and input into work by CSER and FHI on risk management policy, government and science policy, biosecurity policy and defence procurement.
- Supported other policy actors, such Alpenglow and the School of International Futures (SOIF), to develop policy on topics such as improving long-term decision making.
Our impact report survey confirms that staff at all of these organisations found our input to be useful for their work.
Our research work has also been crucial for inputting into the campaigns discussed below.
Growth of the APPG
The APPG list has grown from 23 members (05 Mar 2019) to 75 members (05 April 2020). These members are fairly evenly spread across the Lords and Commons and across political parties. See the graph below. This is despite a number of members lost at the 2019 election.
More importantly we have also seen an uptake in engagement with significantly more Parliamentarians attending our events. See the graph below.
Growth of parliamentary interest
The graph below shows how the use of the term “future generations” has increased proportionally since 2013 levels. It has gone up roughly 2.5 times since the creation of the APPG, and gone up 40% over the period covered by this impact report.
(Some of this is due to the debates around the Future Generations Bill. There has also been more general use of the term. We have not yet managed to separate these out. To account for the amount of debates we compared usage to the usage for the word “and”.)
Campaigns: TodayforTomorrow, joint campaign with Lord Bird – ongoing
We have worked closely with Lord Bird’s office to draft and lay a Future Generations bill:
- There is now a UK Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill progressing through and being debated in the House of Lords and has been presented in the House of Commons. (An earlier version was laid in the Lords but did not progress due to the 2019 snap election). The APPG helped pull together the initial draft of the Bill.
- This has generated interest and support from Parliamentarians. In Feb 2020, 14 MPs and 37 Peers attended our launch event for the bill. On 13 March 2020, 20 Peers spoke in the House of Lords debate in favour of the bill. (Building support for these was driven jointly by the APPG and by Lord Bird’s Office.) In late March 2020, 12 MPs signed a letter calling for “long-term thinking for future generations” published in the Guardian and 38 Peers signed a letter for “Let’s be the good ancestors our descendants deserve” in the Financial Times. (These letters were organised solely by Lord Bird’s Office.)
- Private members bills are mostly campaigning devices, they rarely become law. So far the official response is “Government will not be able to support the Bill as it stands”. This is not positive but it does leave the door open to working out if the government would support an amended version of the bill.
The Lord Bird and the Big Issue has also taken further actions including:
- 350 Parliamentary candidates took a pledge for a Future Generations Bill at the 2019 election at todayfortomorrow.org.uk. 70 of these Became MPs. This included the leaders from all major parties: Boris Johnson (Con), Jeremy Corbyn (Lab), Jo Swinson (LD), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), Adam Price (PC), Caroline Lucas (Green).
- Extensive media coverage. In 2019 articles appeared in: i news, The House, The Guardian, and The Financial Times. There has been ongoing coverage in the Big Issue.
Campaigns: Other actions
Letter sending prior to election – finished
A letter signed by researchers at FHI and CSER was sent to manifesto drafters and party leaders in the run up to the election. We have no evidence that this influenced manifestos. In part this was an effort to consider how, if at all, researchers should reach out to Number 10 and was affected by a last minute veto of this plan. Full write-up here (access granted on request).
Improving the UK’s risk management – ongoing
In light of COVID-19 outbreak we are campaigning to improve the UK’s flawed risk management processes. We have
- Had an op-ed published by a national newspaper. See here..
- Requested a House of Lords special committee on risk management. This was a success, see the section below on policy and institution change. About 25% of the work on this was carried out after the end of the time period under examination.
- Extensive research into the challenges of and mechanisms to improve national risk management in the UK. Policy suggestions are available here. Full research will be available after confirming with sources.
This work is ongoing and Alpenglow is supporting with government engagement.
We have started working with Wera Hobhouse MP to call for a backbench business debate thinking about how “national security” can be reframed as “human security” and broadened to cover global and future threats or existential security. Most of our work on this is beyond the dates covered by this impact report.
Other: networking and support
Event speakers and attendees from academia (eg CSER) civil society organisations (eg Nesta) have reported that they have found it useful to speak to and engage with Parliamentarians at events.
We have also taken more direct action to facilitate useful connections. To give a few examples for example:
- Connecting Alpenglow to UK Civil Servants
- Connecting CSER to the Open Innovation team in Cabinet Office
- Connecting Effective Giving to BASIC and later to members of the House of Lords
- Connecting FHI and Imperial biosecurity academics to interested Conservative MPs
- Connecting people to relevant UK government contacts on Coronavirus response
- Running post-COVID scenario planning workshops for CSER staff and others
Feedback received suggests that we had a positive impact on the work of 18 staff from: the UK civil service, HM Government of Gibraltar, CSER, FHI, SOIF, Alpenglow, Effective Giving, 80 000 Hours, EA Norway, Alpenglow, Nesta, Peers for the Planet and Rethink Security.
This is based on our June 2020 impact and feedback survey in which 18 people from the organisations listed here answered “yes” to “Has the APPG for Future Generations (or Sam) had a positive impact on your work in any way? [Yes, Possibly, No]”. We did not do a large push to make everyone we have interacted with fill out this survey and as such there are likely others who benefited from our support but have not reported this to us.
Policy and institution changes
The APPG has not yet led to any concrete changes in UK policy or law.
The APPG, working with Lord Rees and with support of 16 other members of the APPG, has successfully led to the House of Lords committing to a Special Inquiry Committee on Risk Assessment and Risk Management, on how the UK prepares for future risks (beyond pandemics) and works internationally to prepare for global risks. This is one of only 3 such Select Committee to be set up in 2020. It will have a clerk to manage their business, a cross-party panel of expert peers and the power to require evidence from government (“to send for persons papers and records”). After 1 year they will produce a report with recommendations that government will respond to. About 40% of Select Committee recommendations are implemented by government (Benton and Russell 2013).
We note that, independent of us, a Future Generations Bill was in the Labour manifesto (and the Green Party manifesto) for the December 2019 election. It is hard to judge but we expect the APPG contributed to this.
The APPG for Future Generations has had significant traction at the early steps of the theory of change.
- We have built the size and profile of the APPG within Parliament, almost doubling membership since the December 2019 election and significantly increasing event attendance. We have seen traction in our campaigns, especially the Today for Tomorrow campaign.
- Our work appears to be impacting politics: we have seen Labour adopting a Future Generations Bill policy and the use of the term “future generations” in parliamentary debates going up roughly two and a half times since the APPG was created from a fairly level baseline.
We have had one significant success: the commitment for a new year long Special Inquiry Committee on Risk Assessment and Risk Management. We expect this work:
- To be well directed. We have, to a reasonable degree, set the agenda for this work. For example it will include global risks and how the UK can help the world best prepare.
- To be high quality. There is significant expertise in the HoL on relevant issues and parliamentary clerks and researchers will be assigned to work on this. Furthermore the committee will have access to information unavailable to academics and others.
- To lead to policy change. The report will make recommendations and about 40% of Select Committee recommendations are implemented. We hope that given COVID-19 and the uncontroversial nature of this work that government will be relatively receptive.
That said we have not yet caused any actual changes to UK government policy. We expect that lack of successes in this is just due to our level of ambition, as we are aiming for quite significant changes to UK policy, and due to our newness, as policy change takes time.
About half of our work is research. It is too early to get a clear idea of the value of this. Given the quality of the evidence collected and the interest of Parliamentarians in our work we are optimistic, especially about our long-termism inquiry. For our research beyond the inquiry and we should make more of an effort to publish and publicise this work.
Most APPG’s spend less and do less than us. If we just wanted to grow the APPG and have a stream of events we could likely do this with one part-time staff. Most research organisations are larger than us and publish more than we have to date.
It is difficult to attribute causality within policy advocacy. Certainly without staff the APPG itself would have shrunk and likely not have survived the general election, and no research would have been done. It is unclear however the extent to which the Future Generations Bill would have progressed and how much “future generations” might have been debated in Parliament. It is unlikely that any investigation of the UK’s risks management would have been carried out, no one else was calling for this and the focus seems to currently be specifically on pandemic preparedness but not generally on risk management.
Cost-effectiveness – conclusions
The Special Inquiry Committee success should lead to more resource working on a specific policy problem in this space with significantly more access, more credibility and more power to drive change. As such a simple analysis would suggest the APPG is clearly cost effective.
- The success to date may be largely due to good luck and may not be a good indicator of the marginal impact of additional funds going forward.
- No actual policy has yet been changed, nevermind policy that will clearly impact future generations.
- There may have been more effective strategies for creating policy change.
This means that ultimately the cost effectiveness of this work depends largely on believing the theory of change makes sense and that there is significant value in pushing for improvements to long-term decision making in government and policies connected to existential risks. We have held off from making a full cost effectiveness estimate and will leave it to donors to make informed decisions based on their values and how useful they see this kind of effort.
Lessons for the future
Going forward to have more impact the APPG might want to:
- Review our theory of change. Our policy research seems to have a different path to change. For example being useful to support CSER staff and AlpenGlow.
- Adapt our plans to external situations more. We may look to focus on the post-COVID global response to preventing future risks.
- Consider pushing for less ambitious changes sooner (maybe discuss this with funders). For example we could look to push for amendments to Bills going through Parliament rather than focusing on more substantive changes.
- Write up and publish our research in a way that will be read and noticed.
- Consider how we can be of more use to FHI and CSER staff. For example running more workshops, making more connections and supporting them on policy development.
Our next steps include:
- Hiring a junior staff member with Parliamentary experience to work on running events growing and maintaining the APPG.
- Developing plans to significantly grow the future generations, existential risk and effective altruism adjacent policy research in the UK.
We also note that there may be a high value in more general research (not necessarily done by us) on the value of policy designed to support future generations and which such policies are the most important to focus on.
Advice for others
Advice for others would be
- You can create change but putting yourself in a position of influence and taking opportunities when they arise. For example finding and then working with or working for political actors who are aligned with the change you want to create.
- You can get access to high quality experts through the combination of having a role in the politics/government sphere and being willing to ask (politely with confidence and credentials). For example we have had some really top level speakers at our events
- It is helpful to be astutely aware of the politics and also of complexities of policy design. It is useful to focus campaigns and messaging on what will currently resonate with political leaders. Policy development is never as simple as you think and experienced and expert input is super useful.
Thank you for reading
If you have feedback on this document, or have a strong view on the value of this work, then get in touch. If you are interested in inputting into or funding our future plans then please do get in touch. If you are stating a similar project and want feedback, also get in touch.
You can email Sam Hilton at: email@example.com.
Thanks for the writeup. I think this is really impressive and inspiring. The high-level advice on top is also great.
I think more thoughts along this line would be super useful.
Do you have more thoughts on what personal traits would indicate a great fit for pulling something like this off in another country? Besides a solid understanding of the political arena I for example imagine having to be exceptionally sociable.
Forthcoming post, hopefully within the next week.
I didn’t found the APPG so find it hard to judge what is needed to get something like this started. I think you do want sociability, charm and good networking skills to get a project off the ground, but also just having an existing good network or a few good allies might be sufficient.
Once it is off the ground it is not not really that sociable a job. It is more like being a PA but with a direction setting function. You are mostly building allies but emailing them or putting on events they would find interesting (inviting high quality speakers etc). Then you have some allies want to achieve roughly aligned goals, fix a system they see as broken, deal with environmental issues, etc. And you organise them, set up meetings, write things for them, find opportunities for them, arrange events where they all meet, etc. They do the actual meetings / TV appearances / etc.
So mostly organising and admin type work. You need to be good at emails and inviting speakers and important people to come to things via email, booking rooms and fundraising and so on.
But there is also a that direction setting side. For which you do need the ability to be self directed and able to think and strategise and a super solid understanding of the political arena, politics, policy making, etc. That said to some degree a good advisory board can help if you don’t have a great understanding of all of those things, and you do learn by doing.
Oh and you need to be good at knowing how to influence, not necessarily in person, but how to do a bit of research on someone and know what to email to them or their staff to for example get them to come talk at or attend an event or sign up to a campaign.
I have also done a fair amount of policy research but that is a different type of skill and mostly needs brains and experience in policy and writing ability.