Effective Altruism Sweden plans for 2018


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Effective Altruism Sweden will have a full-time employee over the coming year (that’s me, Markus Anderljung). This document outlines the plans of Effective Altruism Sweden and what we’ll do with that extra labor over the coming year.

I think that the biggest opportunities in Sweden that we ought to take advantage of are: potential for community-building, a vibrant startup community, the ability to test working on politics and a fairly large x-risk community. Given this context, our current plans are to spend a significant amount of resources on capacity-building efforts and on one larger project.

 

The capacity-building efforts will focus on community-building, primarily using methods and reasoning largely common to most effective altruism groups, with some extra attention paid to diversity-issues. Our reasoning is laid out in more detail in Section 3.

 

The larger project we currently plan on spending a significant amount of time on is the Representation of Future Generations. The idea is to implement mechanisms in the Swedish political system to ensure that there is representation of future generations: that the interests of future generations are taken into account in political decision-making. This work is modelled on work carried out over the past year by CSER and FUSE in the UK, leading to the formation of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Future Generations in November. For more details, see Section 4. The section also includes descriptions of two projects we decided not to pursue.

 

This document explicitly lays out the reasoning behind our current plan, to allow you to find mistakes and help make the plan better. To aid this further, I try to make show where we think our uncertainties are. I have also listed what I think are the biggest most crucial uncertainties - our crucial considerations - are, in 3.3. and 4.3.

  

Thanks to Stefan Schubert, Carin Ism, Karolina Grundin, Stefan Einhorn, Gabriella Overödder, Tobias Malm, Catherine Derieux, James Snowden, Harri Besceli, Holly Morgan, Jonas Vollmer and Beth Barnes for useful discussions on the plan so far. You can find a version of the document including footnotes here.

 

 

Table of contents

 1. Background

1.1. A brief (selective) history of effective altruism in Sweden

1.2. Purpose of this document

1.3. What are the opportunities available to EA Sweden?

 

2. Goals for the coming year

 

3. Capacity-building activities

3.1. Community-building

3.1.1. Getting people to positively impact the world

3.1.2. Examples of planned activities

3.1.3. Diversity and inclusiveness

3.1.4. Other activities

3.2. Organizational capacity

3.3. Crucial considerations regarding capacity-building

 

4. Direct work

4.1. Representation of future generations

4.1.1. What’s the idea?

4.1.2. Representation of future generations in Sweden

4.1.3. Potential benefits

4.1.4. Impact mechanism and failure modes

4.1.5. Do we have the resources to carry out this project?

4.1.6. Plan outline

4.2. Some projects we have decided against for now

4.2.1. EA Fact Checkers / The EA Reproducibility Project

4.2.2. Aid effectiveness-ranking of political parties

4.3. Crucial considerations regarding direct work

1. Background

1.1. A brief (selective) history of effective altruism in Sweden

A brief history of the effective altruism-movement in Sweden may prove useful background to the below. In 2015, people in Sweden interested in growing the movement started meeting up. We did not set up Effective Altruism Sweden immediately, but instead focused on building some momentum initially. This was done by putting on some meet-ups, particularly in Stockholm, but mainly in setting up three student groups at universities in Stockholm: Stockholm University, Stockholm School of Economics and the Royal Institute of Technology.

 

In September 2016, we felt that there was enough of a momentum and people interested in effective altruism to warrant a national organization and EA Sweden was created. During 2017, EAS had a committee of five people. The main focus was setting up the infrastructure for the organization, putting on community-building events and outreach.

 

A selection of activities over the year Oct 2016 - Oct 2017:

  • Organized a talk by Will MacAskill with approx. 180 attendees and organized accompanying interviews in Swedish media

  • Carried out six external lectures/talks, e.g. at Almedalsveckan, a big event in Swedish politics, and the largest conference for charities in Sweden

  • Organizing regular meetups and workshops

  • The student groups carried out a number of events, including reading groups and career workshops

  • An EA co-living space was set up: Neurora

1.2. Purpose of this document

The purpose of this document is to explicitly outline the plans of Effective Altruism Sweden (EAS) during 2018 in order to clarify our plans internally and to enable other to provide useful feedback. I also aim to make explicit as many crucial considerations as possible. These are uncertainties and questions where the answers will be particularly impactful on the work we do. There are few statements in this documents that we’re sure of, and so feedback and criticism is greatly appreciated.

1.3. What are the opportunities available to EA Sweden?

In order to determine what we ought to focus on over the coming year, it’s useful to think about what the main opportunities for an EA organization to do good in Sweden are. In short, we think that the (not mutually exclusive) opportunities and related resources are:

  • Community building: This seems like a good opportunity regardless of where your EA group is located. There may be reasons to think that Sweden is particularly good to do community-building in, but I would not take these particularly seriously: Anecdotally, there is a fairly large number of EAs from Sweden relative to the country’s size, despite there having been little organizing over the past few years. Within the x-risk community some of the most influential figures are Swedish, including Anders Sandberg, Nick Bostrom and Max Tegmark are all Swedish. The number of Giving What We Can pledgers might be another measure of how promising community-building in Sweden is. In terms of pledgers per capita, Sweden ranks 7th (5th if outliers with small populations and one pledger are removed).

  • Startup community: Relative to its size, Sweden has a fairly large startup community, being the place where e.g. Spotify, Majong (creators of Minecraft), King, Klarna and iZettle started. To provide an indication regarding the size, $1.4 billion was invested into Stockholm-based startups in 2016. In addition there is an opportunity in the high-impact startup space: 2017 saw the creation of Norrsken Foundation in Stockholm. The organization has an endowment of at least $50 million, “a strong belief in Effective Altruism” and aims to create high-impact startups. Another indication of this being a promising opportunity is that Founders Pledge received an Open Philanthropy Project grant to expand to Berlin, Paris and Stockholm, Sweden.

  • Politics: People within the effective altruism movement have typically been timid about getting involved with political issues, especially with an explicit association with effective altruism. However, there is a lot of potential to do good if effective altruism can be brought into the political sphere in the right way. Given this context, there are advantages to trying out political campaigning in a small country: Firstly, small countries, including Sweden, have a tighter connection between the political process and the people. This means that a political campaign has a higher chance of success allowing shorter feedback loops. Secondly, the risks are smaller. If a political campaign accidentally causes reputational damage to effective altruism (e.g. the ideas come to be seen as weird), damage may be contained to the Swedish-speaking world as opposed to the English-speaking world. Thirdly, it is easier to promote the implementation of a policy if it has already been implemented somewhere else. If it is less costly to implement new policy in smaller countries, then it is advantageous to let smaller countries be this “somewhere else”.

  • X-risk: Globally speaking, Sweden is likely a small contributor to global catastrophic risks. However, there are reasons to believe the country might be a useful place to do work in the area. As mentioned above, there are substantial numbers of x-risk researchers with a connection to Sweden, including Nick Bostrom, Max Tegmark, Anders Sandberg and Olle Häggström. There are also a number of Swedish organizations and institutions that provide capacity: the Institute for Future Studies and the Global Challenges Foundation.

 

2. Goals for the coming year

The activities that EAS carries out can lead to a number of benefits. Broadly defined, these seem to fit into the categories below:

  • Capacity-building: Capacity-building is about laying the groundwork for future impact. It can roughly be divided into community-building and building organizational capacity. Community-building is about fostering a community of people with a commitment to and capable of improving the world effectively, who also have an understanding of how to do so. A crucial part of this community-building will be to make sure that we are a diverse and inclusive community. Organizational capacity is about the organization, and not just the people within it, being able to do good. This includes the organization being good at activating people within the community, having full-time staff, having processes to support its work etc.

  • Exploration value: Sweden is a small part of the global EA movement. If the work EAS does can help others do good better in the future, that’s very valuable. This can be by learning how to better build a community or carry out a specific kind of project.

  • Direct good: The work we do can also have direct benefits to the world. Examples of this would be through affecting policy, helping an organization work more effectively or through donations because of our community-building work.

 

In light of the above, we will focus on two types of activities: capacity-building activities (section 3) and direct work (section 4). The capacity-building activities are those that primarily focus on capacity-building, but they may nonetheless lead to some direct good. The direct work, similarly, primarily aims at doing direct good, but also provides exploration value and the building of capacity.

 

We have also defined measurables to track our impact. The most important measurables are data concerning the funnel of 80k, in addition to donations and pledges through Giving What We Can/EA Funds.

 

3. Capacity-building activities

Below is a brief summary of our current plans related to capacity-building. As mentioned previously I categorise these in terms of activities chiefly aimed at community-building and those aimed at building organizational capacity.

3.1. Community-building

3.1.1. Getting people to positively impact the world

The ultimate goal of community-building within effective altruism is not to grow effective altruism: it is to positively impact the world. We want capable people with an understanding of how to improve the world as much as possible to spend a significant amount of their resources on improving the world. This is a big ask. And so for most people, it is a stepwise process from hearing about effective altruism for the first time to dedicating a significant amount of your time and money to improving the world effectively. This step-wise nature needs to be taken into account in community-building. Depending on where they are, people will have different needs and different activities will be needed to cater to these different needs.

 

A useful analogy to thinking about this is a sales funnel (see below):

Illustration 1: A sales funnel for effective altruism.

 

Over the past year, EAS has been shifting our efforts more towards the latter parts of the sales funnel. Over the coming year, we will continue to put a lot of our efforts in that area. I think this is a good idea since I tend to find that awareness and knowledge of effective altruism is not enough for people to take significant action on the ideas. For most people, in my experience, a social context and nudges towards action are needed. My sense is that this is the case even for people who find that they agreed with a lot of the core effective altruism principles right away. However, I acknowledge that given the importance of the question, this reasoning is likely not enough. Therefore, we are considering putting more energy into answering the question of how best to get people from being aware of the ideas to acting on them.

 

3.1.2. Examples of planned activities

Most of our events and activities will be explicitly put in one of the levels of the sales funnel. That way, we can adapt our events to the relevant target audience. For example, a Level 3-event can benefit from being in a somewhat private space, e.g. someone’s home. However, if you have only just now heard about effective altruism, that might feel too personal. Below, I’ll list some of the activities that we have planned for the different levels:

 

Level 1: Awareness

There are several ways in which we plan to make more people aware of effective altruism and EAS. The first is word-of-mouth or personal contacts, which was the most common way for people to find out about EA in the 2017 Effective Altruism Survey (15.5% of respondents). I find that a lot of people within the EA movement find it difficult to talk about effective altruism with friends and family. Therefore, we have already and are planning to keep running events about how to do so.

 

In addition to the above, we will do more conventional outreach, primarily lectures, talks and one-on-one meetings for individuals we think particularly receptive and impactful. We will also spend some resources on media outreach, but primarily in relation to our direct work.

 

Level 2: Knowledge

Our main activities on this level will be a few recurring activities, listed below:

  • Socials

  • Introduction to effective altruism (2-4 hour workshop)

  • Giving games

  • Reading groups




Level 3: Action

Activities under this level aim to get people to take action on their knowledge of effective altruism. In short, these actions can be donating money, changing your career or doing direct work. By direct work, I mean for example helping organize a local group, but also running specific projects such as those discussed in section 4.

 

Under this level, we plan to carry out some of the following activities:

  • Career workshops

  • Workshops on other actionable topics, e.g. how to talk to your friends about effective altruism and how to make yourself live in accordance with your values

  • One-on-one conversations with particularly high-potential members

  • Providing easy ways for people to get involved in direct work

 

3.1.3. Diversity and inclusiveness

Lack of diversity is a significant risk to the effective altruism movement. In short, a lack of diversity means that we are losing out on a lot of talent. Furthermore, there are reasons to think that a community not being diverse is self-reinforcing: people tend to know and be more comfortable getting to know people who are similar to themselves. As an example of how trivial this type of effect can be: when I lived in the UK, I was far more likely to befriend someone if they were Swedish. And so, if a group were to become predominantly students, they would tend to bring in other students and non-students would feel less at home in the setting. Because of the potential loss in value and the self-reinforcing nature of homogeneity in a group, it is important to explicitly put effort into promoting diversity and inclusiveness and it is important to do that at an early stage to avoid calcification of a certain demographic.

 

We have put work into this issue over the past year and currently the EA Sweden board is 4/6 female. However, the majority of our members are still white men. Given this, more work in this area is warranted. We hope to be pioneers within the EA community in terms of diversity.

 

Below is a short list of the types of actions that we will and have taken in the past to improve our diversity and inclusiveness:

  • Put extra effort in the “Awareness”-stage on groups that are currently underrepresented and would make valuable contributions to the community. This can include putting more energy into contacting those organizations whose members may improve our diversity and inclusiveness.

  • Project the community we want to be. That is, make sure that the people who are visible within the community are diverse in terms of background, ethnicity and gender. This can be done when posting pictures online, but also when choosing who to put on a stage. Of course, this needs to be done with a lot of sensitivity and tact.

  • Explicitly discuss the importance of diversity/inclusiveness and ways to improve on it. As an example, we ran a workshop on this issue a few months before setting up EA Sweden.

  • Showing everyone that they are welcome. If, at some event, we suspect that someone might not feel as welcome as everyone else, we will put extra effort into changing that.

3.1.4. Other activities

  • Organizing EAGx Scandinavia: We have been in discussions with EA Norway about putting on an EAGx Scandinavia and are currently fairly likely to go through with the project. The thought is that this provides a useful ways to involve people in an EA project and to further grow the community.

  • Seeding new groups: So far, EA Sweden has largely been synonymous with EA Stockholm. This is something we will put some energy into changing over the coming year, primarily by connecting individuals who are excited about starting local groups with each other and giving them nudges and support in setting up.

3.2. Organizational capacity

Organizational capacity is about the organization, and not just the people within it, being able to do good. This includes the organization being good at community-building and conducting direct work. Organizational capacity can be contributed to by having a valuable brand, having the right culture, having systems and processes for community-building, having full-time staff and having the capacity to support members in doing direct work.

 

A big part of the plan for the year is to grow the organizational capacity of EAS. This will be done through a number of activities, ranging from:

  • Setting/improving on up our digital infrastructure: website, tracking of members, collecting data from events etc.

  • Setting up processes and policies related to having staff, including payroll

  • Learning more systematically how we can best carry out our community-building

  • Providing members with ways to get involved in direct work

  • Increasing the number of effective altruism leaders, capable of leading local groups and lecturing on effective altruism

 

The main outstanding question related to organizational capacity whether we should focus on growing the number of staff. Currently, the plan is to put effort into considering this question later during the spring. However, outside perspectives on this question would be very valuable. Crucial questions related to this include:

  • What would be the value of another EAF-, CEA- or RC-style organization?

  • If such an organization would be valuable, what ought the role of EAS in the global EA ecosystem be?

  • If the organization ought to expand, should only effective altruist donors be considered, or also additional sources of funding?

3.3. Crucial considerations regarding capacity-building

Below are questions where we currently are both very uncertain and where the answer seems to be particularly important to how our work should be carried out:

  • What is the best way to get more people to act upon the principles of effective altruism? On one extreme, the best strategy is simply exposing a lot of people to a short pitch and on the other is simply focusing on the latter parts of the sales funnel, letting awareness of EA mainly come through online channels and word-of-mouth. EAS current answer is that a combination of the two is needed.

  • Should we attempt to grow our number of staff?

  • What are the best methods for us to involve our members in direct work?

  • Should we put on EAGx Scandinavia? We think the most crucial questions to answer are: How valuable is it? Is the community large enough for a conference?

4. Direct work

In addition to focusing on community-building, we will also focus on direct work, partly due to its importance to community-building.

 

The current plan is to focus our efforts on a project related to x-risk, both due to the importance of the cause, the resources available in carrying out such a project (see section 1.3) and that the proposed project seems promising. Below, the planned project and projects that were considered but decided against, are outlined.

4.1. Representation of future generations

4.1.1. What’s the idea?

Future generations seldom make it to the voting station. Because of this, their interests are poorly represented in current political systems. By future generations here, I mean people other beings who have yet to come into existence. The aim of the project (“RFG” below) is to better represent future generations in the Swedish political system. The hope is that this representation can affect policy which in turn decreases e.g. x-risks. The idea replicates work that has been done in the primarily UK over the past year by among others FUSE and CSER, which for example lead to the formation of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Future Generations.

 

The current strategy within work on x-risk has focused mainly on researching the risks and raising awareness. However, in order for this research to decrease x-risks, there needs to be a way for the research to affect behaviour of relevant actors. So far, this has mainly been done by raising awareness among those who are likely to develop the potentially harmful technology - i.e. researchers and companies. Another approach is to do this by affecting policy. The aim of this project is to create avenues for x-risk research to do so.

 

There are many mechanism that could represent future generations. A forthcoming paper, written by members of CSER and FUSE, provides a good introduction to the topic, including different ways in which countries have represented future generations and the successes of these various mechanisms. The paper ends with concrete suggestions concerning how future generations ought to receive representation in a UK context. In short, the mechanisms can range from explicitly granting rights to future generations, requiring that future generations be taken into account in the legislative process, having a body with powers to veto legislation or groups where parliamentarians can discuss issues connected to future generations. One conclusion regarding the different attempts to represent future generations drawn in the paper is that soft power-mechanisms are preferable. Mechanisms where a body e.g. receives the power to veto legislation do not last very long. We are currently not sure what modes of representation are suitable for the Swedish context. Working on this question will be one of the first tasks of the project.

4.1.2. Representation of future generations in Sweden

There has been attempts to do something similar in Swedish government over the past few decades. Below is a short summary of some shallow research into the topic.

 

Most of the previous attempts seem to have concerned creating a body that provides the government with strategic thinking, helps coordinate between departments in the government and focuses on questions such as the environment, the future of work and global cooperation. From October 2014 to May 2016, Kristina Persson served as Minister for Strategic Development and presided over the Council on Strategic and Future Issues. The Council published three reports in June 2016 on The Work of the Future, The Environmental Transition and Swedish Competitiveness, in addition to Global Cooperation. Both the Council and the Minister for Strategic Development were disbanded in May 2016, during a larger reshuffle of the cabinet.

 

Currently, the institutions or mechanisms that most resemble a representation of future generations are the Future Commission - which replaced the Council on Strategic and Future Issues and is part of the government - and the Agenda 2030-Delegation. I have so far been unsuccessful in finding any information as to what the Future Commission has done since its start in June 2016, while the focus of the Agenda 2030-delegation has been to determine how the Sustainable Development Goals should be implemented in Swedish politics.

 

In summary, unless the Future Commission is in fact active and will last a significant amount of time, there seems to be a need for a mechanism to represent future generations. Furthermore, given a cursory glance at the previous attempts suggests that most of them have suffered from becoming politicized. Most of the previous bodies focusing on the future seem to have been set up by governments rather than being independent. This needs to be taken into account in determining what type of mechanism for the representation of future generations should be advocated for.

 

4.1.3. Potential benefits

The potential benefits of this project would be:

  • Direct impact: If the project is successful, it has the potential to improve the lot of future generations. One could be skeptical of the impact here seeing as Sweden is not a particularly large country. However, the smaller size likely means that there is a higher chance of success. In addition, policy in one country affects the policy of other countries. It is often easier to implement a new policy if it has already been done in another country. This suggests that a good strategy is to first implement new policies in small countries and leverage that in other countries.

  • Community-building: The project would be a good opportunity to heavily involve a small group of individuals, making them more knowledgeable and more capable of carrying out important work in the future. In addition to this, the project would be useful to other aspects of community-building, both in being able to reach out to a wider audience, and be able to show that effective altruism is more than a group of people discussing interesting ideas.

  • Exploration value: Potentially the largest impact from carrying out this project is learning about how to do projects of this kind in the future. That is, both projects concerning bringing research concerning x-risk to bear on policy and political processes, but also the ideas of effective altruism more generally. Many have worried that bringing effective altruism to bear on politics poses a risk of effective altruism being perceived as partisan. However, Sweden can act as a kind of testing ground here. If effective altruism does become perceived as partisan and that turns out to be costly, it would be far less costly than if that was the case in a larger or an English-speaking country. This is not to say that the risk of being perceived as partisan should not be mitigated, but merely that a negative outcome would be less costly.

4.1.4. Impact mechanism and failure modes

A useful way to identify how the project might fail and finding ways to mitigate those risks is to think about the impact mechanism of the project, identify ways for it to go wrong and how to mitigate those risks.

 

In order for the project to have a direct positive impact the following needs to occur: (i) some mechanism of representation of future generations needs to be implemented and sustained, (ii) that mechanism must affect policy in some way and (iii) it affects policy positively. The failure modes for this kind of project are the inverse of the steps in the impact mechanism. There are therefore three failure modes:

  1. No mechanism for the representation of future generations is implemented or alternatively, the mechanism does not last a long time

  2. The implemented mechanism does not affect policy

  3. The implemented mechanism affects policy negatively

 

For a graphical representation, see illustration 2 below.

 

Illustration 2. Impact mechanism and failure modes of the project

 

Failure mode 1 receives the most attention from the forthcoming paper out of CSER and FUSE. They focus on a number of factors that might lead to this failure mode. In particular, they argue that modes of representation that use informal power are preferable, mainly because they last longer. Examples of formal powers include being able to veto legislation. When these types of mechanisms have been implemented, they have often been removed within a short amount of time, presumably because the institution easily becomes politicized. Exemplifying this, the Israeli parliament established a Commission for Future Generations in 2001, with scope ranging across 12 policy areas, the ability to initiate bills and the ability to veto legislation that did not comply with the interests of future generations. The body was given a five-year mandate which was not renewed, officially due to budgetary reasons, but there are indications that parliamentarians felt the body had too much authority.

 

In addition to the above, the Swedish context needs to be taken into account. There is a Swedish parliamentary election coming up in September. This means that the media and politicians will have their attention fixed on more near-term political issues: taxes, immigration, schooling etc. The election also means that many parliamentarians will be changing jobs in September. Therefore, resources being put into trying to implement mechanisms for the representation of future generations before September risk being wasted. Additionally, previous attempts at establishing mechanisms for the representation of future generations ought to be used as case studies to learn from.

 

Failure mode 2 seems like a substantial risk: if the mechanism utilizes soft power, it seems that it would be less capable of affecting policy. In addition, if the x-risk research field is not mature enough to make specific policy recommendations, there is a risk that the mechanism has no policy to discuss or put forward.

 

Failure mode 3 is surely something to be avoided as it not only poses risks having direct negative effects, but it might also lead to severe reputational costs. This failure mode could potentially arise in one of two ways: the recommendations of x-risk researchers turn out to be harmful or the mechanism is co-opted. Both of these risks hinge on the question of whether the x-risk research field is mature enough to come up with useful recommendations.

 

To avoid these failure modes the project ought to:

  • Concentrate resources into public advocacy after the election or a significant amount of time before the election

  • Include high-profile academics who can lend credibility to the idea

  • Ensure that there is a sustainable connection between the mechanism and the x-risk research community. This has for example been done in regards to the APPG by CSER providing the secretariat for the group

  • Learn from people with significant experience of campaigning and the political process in Sweden

  • Learn from previous mechanisms to represent future generations in Swedish politics

4.1.5. Do we have the resources to carry out this project?

This project will require a lot of capabilities, of which we think we have some. Below is a list of needed resources and our access to these resources:

  • Enough research within the x-risk space to warrant the mechanism: A mechanism for the representation of future generations can only provide direct value if we know what policy it ought to promote or speak out against. To further investigate this question we need to discuss the issue with more researchers in the x-risk field.

  • Resources to carry out the project: To carry out the project, we will need the right workforce. Between me working full-time and interested volunteers, we feel confident we will be able to carry it out (although with a high chance of failure).

  • An understanding of and a relevant network within Swedish politics: Carrying out the project successfully requires an understanding of how the Swedish political system works and a related network. We likely have access to this network.

  • A network of x-risk researchers and academics: We have access to a network of x-risk researchers through effective altruism.

4.1.6. Plan outline

The outline of the plan is as follows: Before the election (September 2018) the groundworks for a campaign are created. After the elections, a public campaign will be rolled out. The nature of this campaign is yet to be determined.

 

The activities to be carried out as part of setting the groundworks include:

  • Gather feedback on the project idea from relevant experts (within the EA community, but mainly those with expertise in Swedish politics)

  • Assess interest in the topic from Swedish politicians

  • Put together a working group of high-impact individuals who can work on and support the project

  • Conduct an analysis of the history of representation of future generations in Swedish politics

  • Develop a strategy for the representation of future generations in a Swedish context. This includes answering questions such as: What mechanisms for the representation of future generations are suitable? Should these mechanisms be implemented in a specific order? What are some specific policies that these mechanisms could examine?

  • Develop a short-list of the issues and policies that we would like a mechanism to represent future generations to address

  • Build interest in the issue, by putting on a number of workshops

  • Develop a concrete plan of action for after the election

  • Prepare for launch of campaign post-election

4.2. Some projects we have decided against for now

A lot of project ideas have been considered. Below is a short explanation of each of them. If you’re keen, they’re yours for the taking!

4.2.1. EA Fact Checkers / The EA Reproducibility Project

To do good in the world, it is important to have accurate beliefs about the world: facts are important. Because of this it is particularly important to uphold high epistemic standards. One way in which this could be done would be to have an independent organization that checks on claims made within the effective altruism community.

 

One way to implement this idea - the version I call EA Fact Checkers - would be to focus in on facts or memes that are commonly cited within the effective altruism community. Examples of such claims are: “donating to charity makes you happier”, “some charities are 1000x more effective than others” and the graph from Ord (2013) showing the difference in cost-effectiveness between different interventions. Most of these claims are likely not acted upon directly, and so fact-checking them would not have a direct positive effect on the world. It would likely not lead to money being allocated more effectively. However, there likely would be positive effects in upholding epistemic standards within the community.

 

Another way to implement this idea - EA Reproducibility Project - would be to focus in on facts and claims on which people base decisions: e.g. recommendations on charity donations. The epistemic standards put on research within the effective altruism community is likely high. However, my impression is that the majority of checking on claims is done within EA organizations themselves. Checking from outside of organizations is primarily informal: asking people one knows for feedback, publicly and transparently communicating recommendations through e.g. the EA Forum. What does not exist is a systematic way in which recommendations are externally vetted. However, this might be needed as the EA movement grows larger.

 

An initial sketch of how to carry out this EA Reproducibility Project is as follows: Initially, one would focus on the simplest, most mechanical way of vetting recommendations, where there is little room for interpretation. This would likely be by randomly choosing a recommendation made by an EA organization and checking whether its quantitative models include mistakes or the studies cited supported the claims made. If the first few iterations proved successful, the project could expand into either focusing on a more of the research within the EA community (e.g. vetting citations in blog post from EA organizations) or into carrying out more substantive reproductions (e.g. by looking at whether the research left out important studies or made dubious arguments). Further down the line, this independent organization or project could be a part of setting common epistemic standards or setting up systems of effective altruism peer-review.

 

We decided against working on this project since we do not see ourselves as having a competitive advantage in carrying it out. However, I think it could be quite valuable, both in upholding epistemic standards and in becoming a part of the effective altruism researcher pipeline.

4.2.2. Aid effectiveness-ranking of political parties

A simple way to potentially affect Swedish aid policy would be to conduct a ranking of political parties in terms of the quality of their aid policies

 

Similar projects have been run in the past. The Effective Altruism Foundation did a similar ranking in connection with the Swiss election, but focusing on the politics of specific candidates, not parties, and looking at all policy, not just aid policy. EA NTNU in Norway did a similar project during the recent Norwegian elections, which prompted the Norwegian Aid Minister to discuss the suggestions at one of their events. In both of these cases, all of the work was done by the local group itself. This is likely good for e.g. skill-building. However, to affect policy, there likely needs to be a greater involvement of academics with credibility, both to make sure the conclusions are more likely to be correct and to lend the project credibility.

 

Another notable similar project, and which this type of project would likely take a lot of input from, is the Centre for Global Development’s Commitment to Development Index, a ranking of countries in terms of their contribution to global development.

 

The potential benefits of carrying out such a project would be:

  • Exploration value in learning about how effective altruism can be applied to the political sphere and potentially providing a blueprint for carrying out the same project in other countries

  • Direct impact through potentially affecting policy. Presumably, the biggest majority of the potential impact would not be by swaying voters to vote for parties with better policies, but rather through getting politicians to pay attention to the issue. This would be accomplished both through them believing that the issue will sway voters and by simply the project exposing them to concrete policy proposals.

  • Capacity-building, especially by providing a good opportunity to engage high-profile academics about the ideas of effective altruism

4.3. Crucial considerations regarding direct work

Below are questions where we currently are both very uncertain and where the answer seems to be particularly important to how or if the project should be carried out:

 

  • Regarding the representation of future generations project (RFG), is there research within the x-risk field that could be implemented through the proposed mechanism?

  • Regarding RFG, should this kind of campaign for the representation of future generations be explicitly linked to effective altruism?

  • Regarding RFG, how can the mistakes of previous similar attempts in Sweden be avoided?

  • Regarding RFG, should the roll-out of the project wait until after the election? Should e.g. a declaration with signatures be made during the election campaign?

  • Given the above, ought we to focus on RFG?