[ Question ]

Factors other than ITN?

by Prabhat Soni1 min read26th Sep 202012 comments

33

Cause Prioritization
Frontpage

The ITN (Impact, Tractability, Neglectedness) framework is widely used in EA to do cause prioritisation . Which could be other metrics that we might be missing out on? Is the ITN framework exhaustive?

New Answer
Ask Related Question
New Comment

6 Answers

INT = good per dollar by definition (when used in the quantitative rather than heuristic way), so in that sense it's exhaustive, though in practice, people often miss some factors that are not as naturally captured by the framework:

  • People often assess 'importance' just based on one yardstick (e.g. QALYs) when there are effects on other relevant metrics (e.g. x-risk reduction, economic growth) (and the choice of which yardsticks to focus on in the first place is where a lot of the action is).
  • Value of information - can be included in either I or N, but often missed.
  • Coordination considerations e.g. portfolio approach, comparative advantage, trade with people with other values.
  • Cross-cutting epistemic considerations such as regression to the mean & epistemic humility & how to deal with unmeasured factors – partially covered in my recent podcast. People often only report their 'unadjusted' estimates and don't account for these.
  • Movement building effects e.g. promoting one cause might bring people into others.
  • Funging e.g. if you solve one problem, it might free up resources to work on another.

I find it useful to try to make a 'direct' estimate using INT, and then to have a separate 'all considered' estimate that aims to take account of all the above.

The application of INT also gets more complicated depending on whether you're interested in the resources spent in a certain year or over all time. Likewise, there are issues like complementarities between different forms of resources (e.g. funding vs. labour) that can mean the analysis is different for different resources.

You could also have another category of timing considerations, such as these. Toby's soon, sharp, sudden framework helps to capture some of timing factors as well, or you could think of them as guides to what's most important.

As an alternative, I think it's also useful to think of cost-effectiveness analysis of specific interventions as a separate framework that provides a different perspective.

INT is also only about how pressing causes are in general. In practice if you're making a real decision, you also need to consider your personal fit, career capital, the quality of the specific opportunity etc. as well as other moral considerations besides good done.

I personally don't find the ITN framework useful and agree with most of John Halstead's criticism of the framework here. Cost-effectiveness seems better if you want to make something numerical, within a particular cause area.

In fact, for me, I think both cost-effectiveness and ITN as intellectual frameworks fall down because they mask what I see as a fundamentally philosophical set of questions, if you're trying to do something like compare mental health with health interventions with animal welfare with more longtermist interventions.

If there's an underlying question: how does one prioritise causes? From my own perspective, I just gravitated towards a more longtermist cause prioritisation over time as I found the arguments quite convincing, but I agree that many other areas are extremely worthwhile.

Other factors

If you are thinking about what cause you should work on, you may also consider personal fit. 80,000 hours explain why they didn’t include it as a factor here. Also, none of us is 100% altruistic, so you may also want to consider the personal benefit of working on the cause, although I guess that can go under personal fit as well.

Is it exhaustive?

You could say that there are two ITN frameworks: informal and quantitative. It’s easier to talk about the quantitative framework, so that’s what I will talk about, even though people usually use the informal one.

The quantitative framework cancels out to Good done / extra person or $. If you are a pure consequentialist, I think that this is exhaustive by definition. It doesn’t capture non-consequentialist concerns. E.g., maybe making cost-effective progress on this cause would involve morally questionable means like lying or blackmail. However, you can incorporate these by redefining tractability to something like “tractable with only using means I am comfortable with”. Or you can just assume that in the long run, using these means is bad from a consequentialist point of view anyway, which usually seems to be the case.

Also, it’s exhaustive only if Good done includes all things you intrinsically value like personal benefit, equity, etc. Usually when people use the framework, they assume pure utilitarianism and don’t include these.

Other perspectives that are arguably missing or extensions that can be done are:

Here also is an additional post analyzing the ITN framework: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/fR55cjoph2wwiSk8R/formalizing-the-cause-prioritization-framework

I've seen people suggest Urgency as an additional dimension. I wonder if anyone has tried to integrate it into an ITN evaluation