Our purpose and people
- Rethink Priorities is a research organization that conducts research to inform policymakers and major foundations about how to best help people and nonhuman animals in both the present and the long-term future. Our work informs key stakeholders of the effective altruism community regarding decisions around funding, interventions, and research time allocation worth millions of dollars every year.
- This year we hired 14 new people. We now have a staff of 28 people, corresponding to 24.75 full-time equivalents (with 19.75 FTE focused on research and 5 FTE on operations). We’ll have spent about $2.1M USD in 2021.
Our 2021 impact
In 2021, we achieved some tangible impact from our work, such as:
- Improving animal welfare strategies in the European Union (moving several million dollars to what we believe are more effective approaches).
- Setting up an ambitious project to study the capacity for welfare of different species.
- Starting to staff up a team to address AI Governance and Strategy.
- Investigating lead reduction as a possible intervention competitive with GiveWell’s top charities.
- Running an intern program that successfully got new researchers involved in effective altruism and led to some interns getting permanent jobs in organizations like the Centre for Effective Altruism, Founders Pledge, and here at Rethink Priorities.
Our plans for 2022
Among other projects in 2022, we’re especially excited to:
- Begin work with our newly expanded AI Governance and Strategy team and Global Health and Development team, both of which are directly focused on identifying high-impact giving opportunities.
- Build a larger longtermist research team to explore longtermist work and interventions more broadly.
- Tentatively conclude our intensive work on interspecies comparisons of moral weight, which could help us better prioritize across many cause areas.
- Help solve the funding overhang in EA and unlock tons of impact by identifying interventions across cause areas that can take lots of money while still meeting a high bar for cost-effectiveness.
Our funding goals
If better funded, we would be able to do more high-quality work and employ more talented researchers than we otherwise would.
Currently, our goal is to raise $5,435,000 by the end of 2022. This consists of gaps of:
- $2,230,000 for animal-focused research
- $1,410,000 for longtermism research
- $1,275,000 for EA movement research and surveying
- $520,000 for global health and development research
However, we believe that if we were maximally ambitious and expanded as much as is feasible, we could effectively spend the funds if we raised up to $12,900,000 in 2022.
If you’d like to support our work, you can donate to us as part of Facebook’s donation matching on Giving Tuesday on November 30, or donate directly to us here. We do accept and track restricted funds by cause area if that is of interest. If you have questions about tax-deductibility in your country or are interested in making a major gift, please contact our Director of Development Janique Behman.
Ask us more
We’re running an AMA on the EA Forum this Friday, November 19. Ask us any questions you may have!
Our path to impact
Rethink Priorities achieves impact by improving the decisions made by grantmakers and on-the-ground organizations, multiplying the impact of their work. The effective altruism movement currently allocates hundreds of millions of dollars and millions of hours of work every year — we aim to improve that allocation.
We work independently to uncover new insights while also collaborating with existing groups and funders to ensure the most effective actions are taken based on rigorous research.
Our organization can be understood as all three of the following:
- A research institute driven by research agendas we set according to our own priorities.
- A consultancy doing commissioned work in response to demands from EA-aligned organizations.
- A think tank aiming to inform public policy to improve the world.
Our theory of change works as follows:
Organizational structure and staff
Rethink Priorities currently has a staff of 28 people, corresponding to 24.75 full-time equivalents (including 5 FTE operations staff). This year we spent 61% of our time working on research relevant to farmed and wild animal welfare, 23% on longtermism, 8% on EA movement research, 9% on global health and development, and 8% on other research projects.
New hires in 2021
In 2021, we made a number of hires to improve our team. Significantly, we added a global health and development team, currently supervised by Jason Schukraft, which will explore global health and climate change interventions that might be competitive with GiveWell’s top charities. We’ve already begun this work by looking into interventions like lead reduction campaigns and charter city development.
We also expanded our animal welfare team, integrating much of The Humane League Labs (the research wing of The Humane League) and adding new staff — a staff entomologist, a new research manager for wild animal welfare, and an additional researcher. In addition, we launched a major expansion of our moral weight research, working with dozens of academic collaborators to measure capacity for welfare of different animal species, and try to establish reasonable interspecies moral weights.
We added two additional survey team staff members to help us tackle the growing number of requests we’ve received to conduct public opinion surveys, and to expand our ability to analyze annual projects like the EA Survey.
And finally, we are currently in the process of hiring researchers in longtermism and AI governance and strategy, who will help expand our research in both fields. \
Here’s an outline of all of the hires we added this year.
- Meghan Barrett - Entomology Specialist. Meghan is a PhD candidate in Biology at Drexel University. She is also earning an MS in Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum, with a concentration in Higher Education. Her research interests lie at the intersection of social insect biology, neuroecology, and thermal physiology. She has worked on a wide range of study systems, including termites, bees, ants, wasps, spiders, fruit flies, and wood roaches. She works on projects related to invertebrate welfare and sentience at Rethink Priorities.
- William McAuliffe - Senior Research Manager for the wild animal welfare team. William earned his PhD in Psychology at the University of Miami, where he researched the evolution of cooperation in humans. Before joining RP, he was a postdoctoral scholar at Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance.
- Samara Mendez - Senior Researcher. Samara holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Colorado Boulder. Her research lies at the intersection of agricultural economics, industrial organization, and public policy. She studies the effects of economic policies on participants in food systems, with a special focus on the impact of these policies in industries with market power and/or incomplete information issues. Before joining RP, Samara worked at The Humane League.
- Jacob Peacock - Senior Research Manager. Jacob previously served as the Director of The Humane League Labs, where he studied plant-based milk alternatives, education to reduce meat consumption, and global cage-free campaigns. He earned a degree in Computational Biology from Rutgers University and is an advocate for open science.
- Michael St. Jules - Associate Researcher. Michael has recently held internships in animal welfare at Charity Entrepreneurship, Animal Charity Evaluators, and Rethink Priorities. Before these, he worked as a deep learning research engineer and received master's degrees in Mathematics and Computational Mathematics.
Global health and development
- Ruby Dickson - Researcher. Ruby has a background in economics, policy, and development, and recently completed an MPhil in Economics at the University of Oxford. Before coming to RP, she worked in strategy consulting and policy research, with a focus on impact measurement and program evaluation.
- Greer Gosnell - Senior Environmental Economist. Before joining RP, Greer earned her doctorate and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Environmental Economics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Greer is an open science advocate and field experimentalist specializing in rigorously testing the impact of policies and practices on environmentally relevant behavior and decision-making.
- Jenny Kudymowa - Researcher. Jenny has a background in economics with a specialization in global health, development, and impact evaluation. Before coming to RP, she was a PhD candidate at Erasmus University Rotterdam and Tinbergen Institute and worked as a policy evaluation consultant for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In her work and research, she investigated how to improve healthy behaviors in low- and middle-income countries.
- Bruce Tsai - Researcher. Before joining us at Rethink Priorities, Bruce’s interest in global health led him to intern with the World Health Organization on universal health coverage and do work engaging with the United Nations. Bruce has previous experience ranging from entrepreneurship and innovation processes to grassroots activism. His recent research interests revolve around end-of-life care issues and uncertainties in accelerated COVID-19 vaccine pathways. Bruce is currently completing his medical degree and serves as an executive board member of the New Zealand Climate & Health Council.
Surveys and EA movement research
- Jamie Elsey - Senior Behavioral Scientist. Jamie has a background in psychology and neuroscience. He earned a PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Amsterdam, where he investigated novel approaches to the treatment of anxiety disorders. His previous research work has also included the development of tools for statistical inference, online interventions, discussion of drug and food policies, and neuroethics.
- Willem Sleegers- Senior Behavioral Scientist. Willem conducts research on attitude assessments and attitude change, using surveys and experimental designs. He is a strong supporter of and contributor to open science. Before joining RP, he worked as an Assistant Professor at Tilburg University, where he also obtained his PhD.
Operations and development
- Romina Giel - Operations Associate. Romina is driven by her commitment to social justice, and has held several roles at nonprofits dedicated to creating more equitable cities and to ending the abuse of animals raised on factory farms. Most recently, she worked for The Humane League’s Open Wing Alliance, where she organized some of the animal welfare movement’s largest international conferences.
- Dominika Krupocin - Senior People and Culture Coordinator. Dominika holds a PhD in Security Studies with specialization in cultural and national security. Dominika is interested in EA community building: she is an organizer for EA Philadelphia and also volunteers with Giving What We Can.
- Carolina Salazar - Project and Hiring Manager. Carolina studied literature and environmental ethics at Universidad de Monterrey. She has served various roles at NGOs dedicated to biodiversity conservation and farmed animal rights, and she is an active supporter of social justice movements such as representation, equity, and inclusion, and EA. She works on supporting and advancing talent on the RP team.
Internships and fellowships
Our internship/fellowship program welcomed 11 aspiring researchers in 2021, who were given the chance to build their skills, test their fit, and strengthen their career networks. Several of these interns went on to immediately take high-impact jobs at EA organizations, including Founders Pledge, Centre for Effective Altruism, and here at Rethink Priorities.
This program also helped our own staff build research management capacity, and gave our operations team an opportunity to stress test processes to ensure we could handle planned growth.
We plan to continue running the program in future years (or otherwise provide a valuable entry-level EA position), though we may reduce the total number of interns/fellows.
Our work and impact in 2021
Summary of our 2021 achievements
We launched a new research database, where you can browse all our published reports.
We’ve also achieved several milestones and breakthroughs across all four of our cause areas:
Our Animal Welfare department
- Mapped opportunities to improve European Union (EU) farmed animal protection policies with negotiations starting in late 2023, moving several million dollars.
- Highlighted the challenges for cost-effective cultured meat technologies.
- Set up an ambitious project to study the capacity for welfare of different species, which will inform prioritization of philanthropic spending between nonhuman animals, and potentially between humans and nonhuman animals as well. The work of this team on moral weight, which follows our work from 2020, comprises three researchers and another seven contractors with academic backgrounds in philosophy, economics, comparative psychology, entomology, and neuroethology.
- Continued work on welfare of invertebrates such as insects and shrimps, drawing attention to these neglected species farmed by the trillions. Based on forthcoming work, we believe wild-caught shrimp may significantly outnumber all other animals slaughtered for use by humans combined.
- Continued to examine tractable interventions to improve wild animal welfare that could be robustly positive in impact, and could potentially demonstrate techniques on a small scale that could be important at a larger scale in the future.
Our Global Health and Development department
- Published a report showing that interventions to reduce exposure to lead could be as or more cost-effective than interventions ranked most highly by GiveWell.
- Discussed the promise and limitations of charter cities to foster economic development.
- Looked into agricultural land redistribution and its challenges.
Our Longtermism department
- Continued work analyzing risks from nuclear weapons.
- Tried to understand the accuracy of forecasting for effective altruist goals and find ways to make more accurate forecasts.
- Is setting up a team to study AI governance and strategy.
Our EA Movement Research and Surveying Department
- Analyzed data and developments in the effective altruist community through the EA Survey.
- Conducted several polls and surveys to inform policy groups as well as the effective animal advocacy movement.
The results from several commissioned research projects were shared with the organizations who requested them. We do surveys across multiple cause areas.
Our impact in 2021
We are internally driven by a motto that “good research is not enough” and created a strategy to ensure our research gets put into action:
- We’ve begun hiring for a team to explore questions related to the governance of transformative artificial intelligence to inform the strategy of Open Philanthropy.
- The data and analyses of the EA Survey and the EA Groups Survey we conduct inform movement building strategy at the Centre for Effective Altruism and Open Philanthropy as well as career advice at 80,000 Hours.
- We produced three research reports for Open Philanthropy assessing the potential of global health and development interventions, looking for interventions that could be as or more cost-effective as the ones currently ranked top by GiveWell.
- We informed the animal welfare strategy at Open Philanthropy and other large US-based foundations.
- Surveys and polls we conducted for several animal advocacy organizations were able to test public support for corporate campaigns and policy proposals.
- We informed dozens of European animal advocacy organizations about opportunities to improve EU farmed animal protection policies, moving several million dollars.
- Our analysis of studies about cost-effective cultured meat technologies informed funders and advocates in the alternative protein space.
- For our work on nuclear security, we engaged with relevant organizations and funders.
- We provided analyses about the accuracy of forecasting to the effective altruist and rationalist communities.
- We offered visiting fellowships to 11 aspiring researchers to test their fit for a career in EA-aligned research. We helped build the talent pipeline into work on global priorities.
As a research organization, we’re usually a step or two removed from direct work, and thus it can be challenging to determine what impact on the world we’re having. We’re very interested in ascertaining how those in a position to implement are acting on our work, if at all, and we’re committed to tracking our impact in multiple ways.
Impact survey qualitative interviews
Over the past month we’ve conducted structured interviews with key decision-makers and leaders at EA organizations that either use our work or that we want to use our work. We sought interviewees’ feedback on the general importance of our work for them and for the community, what they have and have not found helpful in what we’ve done, what we can do in the future that would be useful for them, and ways we can improve.To encourage frankness, interviewees were promised that the details of these conversations would not be made public. Some interviews are still forthcoming, so these are tentative conclusions.
Overall we found that all of our stakeholders do read at least some of our research and consider at least some of it to be generally useful. For ~50% of our stakeholders, we did successfully help them improve the quality of at least one important decision. For ~25% of our stakeholders, we had not yet improved any of their decisions with our work because it is too early in our relationship and we had not yet produced any relevant work. For the remaining 25% of our stakeholders, we have so far failed to be useful to them in the way we had hoped.
Areas for improvement
According to the stakeholders we interviewed, there is still an unmet desire for us to directly present our work to organizations and to funders. Despite our efforts to better summarize our work and key takeaways over the last year (a focus from our interviews last year), some think there’s still more to be gained from directly presenting our work to them, such as through webinars or other presentations. We’re currently hiring a communications coordinator, who will work in part on more direct presentations of our work to organizations and funders.
Another area of feedback given to us was that we sometimes spend a lot of research time working on analysis that does not end up being relevant to any particular important decisions. While we think research is inherently exploratory and there are going to be inevitable dead-ends, we are going to work more on considering more clearly what parts of our work we ought to invest a lot of time in to get right and what parts of our work can be cut or done more quickly. We will also work more closely and more frequently with our stakeholders and target audiences to ensure that we are working on useful things.
Our goals and funding needs for 2022
- Our main focus will be establishing a strong team of permanent researchers and rotating fellows tackling AI governance projects on behalf of Open Philanthropy.
- Simultaneously, we will figure out possible additional research directions for the non-AI portion of our longtermism team. This may include continuing existing work on nuclear risks and meta-forecasting and/or exploring a new area.
Surveys and EA movement research
- We will use surveys, message testing, and focus groups to explore how to best talk about longtermism and effective altruism with the general public and interested policymakers.
- We will run another iteration of the EA Survey and continue to invest in understanding our movement.
- We will continue to have capacity - especially after Q1 2022 - to do bespoke survey work on behalf of the EA community and EA-adjacent organizations. We do surveys across all cause areas.
Global health and development
- We will continue to do contracted research for Open Philanthropy and explore opportunities to conduct actionable research for other organizations, as well as explore working with other large funders in the space.
- Our goal remains to find competitive giving opportunities that beat GiveWell’s top charities from an expected value / “hits-based” perspective (though perhaps with less rigorously established evidence bases and lower certainty of impact).
- We will continue to directly support grantmakers and organizations in the farmed animals space by providing decision-relevant analyses of current interventions, working to identify new promising interventions, and providing missing theoretical inputs for their work.
- We expect our initial results on interspecies comparisons of moral weight to be complete by the end of 2022.
- We will develop and validate measures of individuals’ attitudes toward the welfare of wild animals. We’ll apply these findings to our exploratory analyses of possible interventions in this space to work toward our goal of identifying interventions that could be tractable, non-controversial, and reasonably cost-effective (in the short to medium term).
- We will publish our scoping report on farmed shrimp welfare by the end of March 2022, which explores the scale of the industry, conditions, and possible interventions.
- We will continue to assess whether there are any viable interventions in the invertebrate welfare space.
We have set a 2022 goal to raise at least $5,435,000, and as much as $12,990,000. This will enable us to:
- Continue to fund our existing team and projects in all cause areas, maintaining 12 months’ reserves.
- Continue our work in animal welfare, including exploring wild animal welfare interventions, evaluating farmed animal welfare improvements, and doing fundamental work to understand how we should approach comparing and weighing the interests of different animal species.
- Ramp up our global health and development research, exploring several promising global health interventions, and studying how EAs might approach addressing climate change.
- Build up our longtermist research team and explore more longtermist research directions.
- Build a communications team to better reach people who will use it, getting more impact out of our research.
Our budget will be allocated as shown below in low, high, and maximally ambitious scenarios.
Budget - Low
Budget - High
Budget - Maximally ambitious
Room for more funding in 2022
Meeting our low budget scenario will allow us to continue our projects with our current staff and some small already-planned expansion.
The high budget scenario will enable us to deploy greater research capacity by hiring about a dozen additional staff to address some of the most important questions we’ve identified. We are highly confident that we could effectively deploy funding at this level to build up our organization for sustainable impact moving forward.
Our maximally ambitious scenario would enable RP to scale at the maximum rate we think is possible. This plan involves:
- Hiring additional operations staff in 2022 to prepare for a much larger research team, then adding several dozen researchers over the remainder of 2022 and early 2023.
- Adding a new department (listed in the budgets temporarily under “EA movement research”) focused on investigating the consequences on EA approaches of adapting various worldviews (such as how various species of animals are valued, or how we weigh the interests of far-future people against uncertainty in our ability to help them).
- Significantly building our longtermism team.
We are less confident of our ability to execute the maximally ambitious plan, but it does feel at least moderately plausible, and we think this number represents a good view for the maximum amount of money we could possibly put to productive use, such that any money raised beyond this amount would very likely be deferred to cover spending in 2024 or later.
For context, a new researcher costs us on average around $130,000 per year (including all benefits, fees, taxes, and necessary operations support).
We’d be happy to discuss the details of how each of these budget levels would unfold with funders upon request.
Reasons to fund Rethink Priorities
- Each year we have many well-qualified applicants that we would like to hire but that we do not, mostly due to lack of funds. With every new $130,000, we can hire one new researcher (including all benefits, fees, taxes, and necessary operations support). Additional funding will make a key difference in how much Rethink Priorities grows over the next two years.
- We have a track record of producing actionable research that has informed decisions worth millions of dollars. Our work amplifies the impact of several key effective altruist and longtermist organizations.
- Rethink Priorities has been trusted by EA Funds and Open Philanthropy to start new projects (e.g., on capacity for welfare of different animal species) and open entire new departments (such as AI governance).
- These and other large organizations often only fund 25–50% of our needs in any particular area because they trust our ability to find other sources of funding. Therefore we rely on a broad range of individual donors to continue our work.
- Support outside of our main funders will provide more resilience against the risk of a major funder changing direction, as well as more independence to pursue our research agenda without the fear of a big funder pulling out. Unrestricted funding in particular is immensely valuable for us building a robust, stable, and effective organization. However, we do accept and track restricted funds by cause area if requested by donors.
- We provide value to the entire EA community through public analyses, the EA Survey, helping people with ad hoc analysis requests, and training new EA researchers. However, such benefits are hard to fundraise for: they don’t help any one particular funder enough to make them want to fund this work, and the primary beneficiaries often have limited ability to support us. A diverse donor base will help us show that there is strong support for these community-wide benefits we provide, and will also keep us accountable to continue delivering value to the EA community as a whole in addition to our more specific stakeholders.
How to give
We believe we are entering 2022 prepared to do more important research than ever before, and with the ability to continue growing. We are excited about where we could go with your support.
If you’d like to help fund our work, you can donate to us as part of Facebook’s donation matching on Giving Tuesday on November 30, or donate directly to us here. If you have questions about tax-deductibility in your country or are interested in making a major gift, please contact our Director of Development Janique Behman.
This post is a project of Rethink Priorities.
It was written by Marcus A. Davis, Peter Wildeford, Abraham Rowe, and Janique Behman. Thanks to Katy Moore for copyediting.
We also work extensively with external collaborators. By the end of 2021, we expect to have around 3.1 FTE-years of research completed by collaborators, primarily as part of our two-year moral weight research project. We worked with 17 collaborators in 2021. ↩︎
All budgets include overhead costs, including administrative expenses, communications, and fundraising costs. ↩︎