The Global Priorities Institute has published a new research agenda, which aims to reflect our current research focus accurately.

GPI's mission is to conduct and promote what we call ‘global priorities research’: research into issues that arise in response to the question, ‘What should we do with a given amount of limited resources if our aim is to do the most good?’ This question naturally draws upon central themes in the fields of economics and philosophy.

Thus defined, global priorities research is in principle a broad umbrella. Within that umbrella, this research agenda sets out the more specific research themes that GPI is particularly interested in at the present time.

The research agenda is structured as follows:

  • Section 1 outlines what we call the longtermism paradigm. This paradigm centres around the idea that because of the potential vastness of the future portion of the history of sentient life, it may well be that the primary determinant of which actions are best is the effects of those actions on the very long-run future, rather than on more immediate considerations. Because these ideas seem plausible, seem likely to have fairly radically revisionary implications if correct, and are currently quite neglected, this is the main focus of GPI’s own research (at the time of writing and, we predict, for at least the next two years). We are particularly keen to hear from other researchers who share this interest.
  • Section 2 concerns general issues in cause prioritisation. This covers issues that are not specific to a longtermist point of view, but that arise for agents engaged in an exercise of global prioritisation.

The intended audience for this document is academics (especially, but not only, in economics and philosophy) who are potentially interested in working with GPI, whether as GPI researchers or as external collaborators, or who are otherwise interested in the same mission.

We invite you to read the new research agenda here.

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This is really really impressive. An amazing collection of really important questions.

POSITIVES. I like the fact that you intend to research:
* Institutional actors (2.8). Significant changes to the world are likely to come through institutional actors and the EA community has largely ignored them to date. The existing research has focused so much on the benefits of marginal donations (or marginal research) that our views on cause prioritisation cannot be easily applied to states. As someone into EA in the business of influencing states this is a really problematic oversight of the community to date, that we should be looking to fix as soon as possible.
* Decision-theoretic issues (2.1)
* The use of discount rates. This is practically useful for decision makers.

OMISSIONS. I did however note a few things that I would have expected to be included, to not be mentioned in this research agenda in particular there was no discussion on
* Useful models for thinking about and talking about cause prioritisation. In particular the scale neglectedness and tractability framework is often used and often criticised. What other models can or should be used by the EA community.
* Social change. Within section 1 there is some discussion of broad verses narrow future focused interventions, and so I would have expected a similar discussion in section 2 on social change interventions verses targeted interventions in general. This was not mentioned.
* (which risks to the future are most concerning. Although I assume this is because those topics are being covered by others such as FHI.)

Like I said above I think the questions within 2.8 are really importation for EA to focus on. I hope that the fact it is low on the list does not mean it is not priorotised.
I also note that there is a sub-question in 2.8 on "what is the best feasible voting system". I think this issue comes up too much and is often a distraction. It feels like a minor sub part of the question on "what is the optimal institution design" which people gravitate too because it is the most visible part of many political systems, but is really unlikely to be thing on the margin that most needs improving.

I hope that helps, Sam

What are these other questions about optimal institution design, which you consider more important than voting systems?

There are maybe 100+ other steps to policy as important as voting system design. In rough chronological order I started listing some of them below (I got bored part way through and stopped at what looks like 40 points).

I have aimed to have all of these issues at a roughly similar order of magnitude of importance. The scale of these issues will depend on country to country and the tractability of trying to change these issues will vary with time and depend on individual to individual.

Overall I would say that voting reform is not obviously more or less important than the other 100+ things that could be on this list (although I guess it is often likely to somewhere in the top 50% of issues). There is a lot more uncertainty about what the best voting mechanisms look like than many of the other issues on the list. It is also an issue that may be hard to change compared to some of the others.

Either way voting reform is a tiny part of an incredibly long process, a process with some huge areas for improvements in other parts.


  • constitution and human rights and setting remits of political powers to change fundamental structures of country
  • devolution and setting remits of central political powers verses local political bodies
  • term limits


  • electoral commission body setting or adjusting borders of voting areas / constituencies
  • initial policy research by potential candidates (often with very limited resources)
  • manifesto writing (this is hugely important to set the agenda and hard to change once )
  • public / parties choosing candidates (often a lot of internal party squabbling behind the scenes)
  • campaign fundraising (maybe undue influences)
  • campaigning and information spreading (maybe issues with false information)
  • tackling voter apathy / engagement
  • Voting mechanism
  • coalition forming (often very untransparent)
  • government/leader assigns topic areas to ministers / seniors (very political, evidence that understanding a topic is inversely proportional to how long a minister will work on that topic)


  • hiring staff into government (hiring processes, lack of expertise, diversity issues)
  • how staff in government are managed (values, team building, rewards, progression, diversity)
  • how staff in government are trained (feedback mechanisms, training)


  • splitting out areas where political leadership is needed and areas where technocratic leadership is needed
  • designing clear mechanisms of accountability to topics so that politicians and civil servants are aware of what their responsibilities are and can be held to account for their actions (this is super important)
  • ensuring political representation so each individual has direct access to a politician who is accountable for their concerns
  • putting in place systems that allow changes to the system if an accountability mechanisms is not working
  • ensuring accountability for unknown unknown issues that may arise
  • how poor performance of political and civil staff is addressed (poor performance procedures, whistleblowing)
  • how corruption is rooted out and addressed (yes there is corruption in developed countries)
  • mechanisms to allow parties / populations to kick out bad leaders if needed
  • Ensuring mechanisms for cross party dialogue and that partisan-ism of politics does not lead to distortions of truth


  • carrying out research to understand what the policy problems are (often unclear how to do this)
  • understanding what the population wants (public often ignored, need good procedures for information gathering, public consultation, etc)


  • Development of policy options to address problems
  • Mechanisms for Cost Benefit Analysis and Impact Assessments to decide best policy options
  • access to expertise advice and best practice (lack of communication between academia and policy)
  • measuring impact of a policy proposal once in place (ensuring that mechanisms to measure impact are initiated at the very start of the policy implementation)
  • actually using information on
  • how politicians are allowed to change their mind given new evidence (updating is often seen as weakness)
  • mechanisms to ensure issues that are not politically immediately necessary are tackled (lack of long term thinking)







  • flexibility to deal with shocks of every step of the above process (often lacking)
  • transparency of every step of the above process (often lacking)

Very nice.

Is there a quick way to use the agenda to see GPI's research prioritization? (e.g. perhaps the table of contents is ordered from high-to-low priority?)

Thank you for asking! The ordering of research areas in the Table of Contents does loosely track our research prioritisation, but only within the constraints of making the Agenda a reasonably coherent document, with similar subject matter grouped together.

We hope to post a web-friendly version of the agenda in the next month or two. This version will let users sort the research topics in various ways, including, potentially, directly on the basis of research priority.

Can you put up a plain text version of this? PDFs aren't absorbed nicely by other software (e.g. Facebook for sharing, Instapaper for saving to read later, etc.)

Suppose I want to give a counter argument to one of GPI's research papers. Where can I post such a response?

More precisely, I want to argue that the reasoning in " Moral Uncertainty About Population Axiology " is not compatible with the most plausible ways of normalizing different axiologies, such as variance normalization.

You are more than welcome to post a response on any medium you choose. That said, as GPI's mission is in part to bring EA-relevant research topics into the academic mainstream, responses in the form of academic publications are particularly encouraged.

This looks great, and I'm happy to see all of these questions in one place.

In case anyone finds it useful, I visualised an alternative breakdown of the questions here, in which each category of questioning builds on the previous one.

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